Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages

Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages

Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages

Tsimshian Culture: A Light through the Ages

Synopsis

The Tsimshians are a Northwest Coast native people known for their dazzling works of art and rich array of social, religious, and oral traditions that have captured the attention of scholars for over a century. Jay Miller brings together for the first time a wealth of material about the Tsimshians, presenting an unforgettable picture of their whole cultural universe. That universe is built around the metaphor of light, which was brought into the world by Raven; its refraction forms the chief social, religious, and symbolic institutions of Tsimshian culture. Family heraldic crests express light in one way, masks in another. Miller argues convincingly that the genius of Tsimshian culture, and one of the main reasons for its continuing vitality, is that its people are sensitive to different, and often creative, ways of capturing and embodying light.

Excerpt

For over two decades I have been trying to understand the intricacies of the Tsimshian, one of the most fascinating nations of Native America. This book is the result. It should have been written eight years ago, but I was lost for too long in a bureaucratic maze.

Now, with more time for reflection, the result is much more comprehensive than I had initially intended, hopefully to the better. While details of this remarkable culture have had to be segmented to study some of its facets, the ultimate goal was to present a sense of the elegance, integrity, and beauty which was and is Tsimshian culture.

From the outset, I must make clear that, throughout this book, "Tsimshian" is used as an all-encompassing term for the four divisions: Coast, Southern, Gitksan, and Nishga. Currently, this is an unpopular conjoining in the very real political world of modern northern British Columbia. Nonetheless, shared region and culture, which is my goal, takes precedence over the emphasis on differences which characterize present relations among these First Nations. In addition to their common homeland at Temlaxham, the modalities of the culture, to be fully understood, must be examined in terms of the various expressions found among these four groupings. As Norman Tait, famous Nisga'a artist, has remarked for the art, "I use the label 'Tsimshian' to describe the style that I wanted to learn about because it included all three--Tsimshian, Gitksan and Nisga'a--in one category" (Jensen 1992: 9). Since the Southern . . .

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