Their language, Nass-Gitksan (with three surviving forms: Nisga'a, Eastern and Western GITKSAN), is related within the Tsimshian language family to Coast TSIMSHIAN. The Nisga'a are also held to be distantly related to the Penutian peoples of Oregon and California.
Nisga'a life represented the sophisticated NORTHWEST COAST culture patterns, with monumental cedar carving (TOTEM POLES and other large figures, plank houses, canoes, etc), balanced reliance upon hunting, fishing and gathering, and the socially complex pageantry of the POTLATCH feast. Many aspects of this traditional life continue, although adapted to the occupations and technology of the contemporary Canadian economy. Every Nisga'a belongs to a descent group, or phratry, an aspect of individual identity which, like the rights to names, songs and dances, is inherited through the maternal line. The Nisga'a language has been gradually replaced in use by English, but is now being taught as a subject in district schools. Once almost completely discontinued, the Nisga'a carving tradition has been revitalized, and Nisga'a totem poles now stand in Chicago, Phoenix and Vancouver, as well as on the banks of the Nass (primarily the work of Nisga'a carver Norman Tait and his associates).
In 1912 the Nisga'a were the first Aboriginal group to initiate a legally constituted LAND CLAIM action against the Canadian government. The Nisga'a have always been at the front of the land-claims movement. Claiming continuing Aboriginal rights to their traditional lands, they went to court in 1969 (see CALDER CASE, 1973) for a declaration that their title had never been surrendered by treaty or otherwise extinguished. Dismissed in BC courts, their contention was finally taken to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the notion of an Aboriginal title was supported, but no agreement was reached as to how these rights might be evaluated or extinguished.
After years of negotiations, an historic agreement in principle with Canada and British Columbia (AIP) was initialed on 15 February 1996 by the Nisga'a Tribal Council and representatives of the BC and federal governments. The 214-page AIP lay the foundation for the first modern-day treaty in BC. Key components of the agreement call for cash payment to the Nisga'a of $190 million over a period of years, the establishment of Nisga'a government with communal ownership of, and SELF-GOVERNMENT over about 2000 square km of land in the Nass River valley. It outlined the Nisga'a ownership of resources on these lands and spelled out entitlements to salmon stocks and wildlife harvests. The agreement was signed and provincial legislation passed in 1999 ratifying the treaty with the Nisga'a people. The treaty has yet to be passed as federal legislation and will become the first treaty in British Columbia since 1899. The introduction of ratification legislation was planned for the fall 1999 session of the House of Commons. Federal ratification legislation is the final step in ratifying the Nisga'a Treaty. Once this ratification process is complete, the treaty will be implemented.
Author J.V. POWELL AND VICKIE D. JENSEN
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge
The website for the Canadian Aboriginal Writing and Arts Challenge, which features Canada's largest essay writing competition for Aboriginal youth (ages 14-29) and a companion program for those who prefer to work through painting, drawing and photography. See their guidelines, teacher resources, profiles of winners, and more. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Languages of Canada
A comprehensive online database of languages currently in use in Canada. Also provides details about extinct languages. Check out the "language maps" for more information. Based on "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition." From SIL International, a US website.
BC Geographical Names
Search the BC Geographical Names Information System for historical and geographical data about specific locations in British Columbia.