Haisla People
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Haisla People
Xa'islak'ala, X?a'islak'ala, X?à'islak'ala, X̣a'islak'ala, Xai:sla
Haisla whistle (UBC-2010).jpg
A Haisla whistle
Total population
1,500 [1]
Regions with significant populations
British Columbia
English, Haisla
Christianity, native
Related ethnic groups
Heiltsuk, Wuikinuxv, Kwakiutl

The Haisla (also known as Xa'islak'ala, X?a'islak'ala, X?à'islak'ala, X̣a'islak'ala, Xai:sla) are an amalgamation of two bands, the Kitamaat people of upper Douglas Channel and Devastation Channel and the Kitlope People of upper Princess Royal Channel and Gardner Canal in British Columbia, Canada.

The Kitamaat call themselves Haisla ("dwellers downriver"); and the Kitlope Henaaksiala ("dying off slowly"), a reference to their traditional longevity. "The word 'Kitamaat' comes from the Tsimshian people, who originate from the Prince Rupert and Metlakatla areas. While Kitamaat means people of the snow in Tsimshian, kit means people and amaat refers to territory or place.

The Haisla are a group indigenous people that have been living at Kitamaat Village in the North Coast region of British Columbia and have been occupying these lands for at least 9,000 years.[2] Today, the Haisla people are located in Kitamaat Village, otherwise known as Kitimat Village. Home to about half of the ,1700 Haisla, Kitamaat Village sits at the head of the Douglas Channel in British Columbia, while most of the balance of people live elsewhere in the Greater Vancouver region.[2] Their language, Haisla, is named after them in most English usage, though its actual name is X?a'islak?ala. The name Haisla is derived from the Haisla word x̣à'isla or x̣à'is?la (those) living at the rivermouth, living downriver'. Along with the neighbouring Wuikinuxv and Heiltsuk people, they were incorrectly known in the past as the Northern Kwakiutl.


The name Kitamaat became misrepresented in 1955 when Alcan Industries entered to build an aluminum smelter in their territory. Alcan attempted to bring a new face to the territory and called it the "town of the future" and changed the spelling to Kitimat.[3] The Haisla name for Kitamaat Village is Tsee-Motsa, meaning Snag Beach.[4]


The Kitamaat Village, the Haisla reserve, is a short 20-minute drive south of the town of Kitimat at the head of the Douglas Channel, a 90 km (56 mi) fjord that serves as saltwater corridor that connects the community and the town and port of Kitimat, which is the site of the aluminum smelter of Alcan Incorporated, to the Pacific Ocean. Kitamaat is a Tsimshian name, applied by European explorers who asked their Tsimshian guides for the name of the place; it means "people of the snows" or "place of the snows". For hundreds of years, the Haisla people have occupied many village sites throughout their territory.

The government of the Haisla people is the Haisla Nation, with its offices in Kitimaat Village, British Columbia.

Canoe made by the Haisla members of the Kitimat Athlete club. It was donated as a gift to the UBC Museum of Anthropology in 1948 where it is displayed today.

Ellis Ross was a prominent elected Chief Councilor of the Haisla Nation, and one of the first First Nations leaders in Canada to team up with big oil companies like "LNG", and he was full-time councillor from 2003 to 2016. Ellis was followed by[5] Crystal Smith, the current Acting Chief.

Haisla clan system

Historically there were six clans within the Haisla people, each named after an animal that has historical significance to the tribe. It is believed that the sixth clan, the Crow, is nearly extinct and has merged with the Raven clan.[6] Each tribe has its own principle chief (Xay'mas), and they would meet whenever needed to discuss issues that would affect the entire tribe. These chiefs were very involved in the lives of its clan members, often arranging marriages that would be  a benefit the clan. This could include things such as the distribution of wealth and building alliances between clans. These chiefs were able to take more than one wife and wives of deceased chiefs could also be inherited by the new chief.[7] The Haisla people were some of the few northern North American indigenous nations that had a tiered class system consisting of nobleman, commoners and slaves. Nobleman had privileges that included participation in secret rituals and they had the authority to direct commoners and slaves in labour activities. The nobility was recognized by their piercings, earlobes for the boys, and the lower lip for the girls.  Commoners were free to live as would but were unable to participate in any tribal governance. Slaves were generally war prisoners, and were expected to be completely subservient, and could be killed at will.

Clan membership is inherited maternally, with titles and inheritance passing from uncle to nephew instead of the paternal father to son.[7] It is believed that this clan system was inherited from the migration of Tsimshian woman as they spread throughout the northern tribes. Each clan has its own unique creation story, in conjunction with the entire tribe's creation story.[6]

  • Eagle (ai '?ksdukuyinihu, from ai '?ksdukuyå)
    • Crests: eagle, sea otter, ermine, owl, shag, hawk, halibut. Sometimes referred to as Owl Clan.
    • Clan cry / call: hai hai (imitation of the eagle scream)
  • Beaver (g?ts?'k [Tsimshian] kaulu'n [Haisla equivalent])
    • Crests: beaver, dorsal fin of a dogfish, fireweed, beavers house, human figure holding its knees, k!yEk!a'n (giant beaver), posts or hat rings carved to look like beaver cuttings. Sometimes referred to as the Dogfish Clan.
    • Clan cry / call: t'am t'am (imitating a beaver hitting its tail on the water)
  • Raven (giga'k!eni)
    • Crests: raven, åsEw?'lgit (seated human figure with human faces carved or painted onto palms, ears, knees and feet), head and beak of a raven, gosEmdela'h (figure of a man, that when Ravens host a feast, is placed head down in the entrance way. There is human hair added, and as the raven chief enters the feast, the hair will touch him)
    • Clan cry / call: Gax gax (Sound of raven croaking)
  • Blackfish (Killer Whale / Orca) (hå'låxaini)
    • Crests: blackfish, dorsal fin or a blackfish, grizzly bear, twilight (red sky of the evening), human figure with another human figure at its breast (walai'g?tlah), giant deep-sea bear (sa'nis), kelp heads, bu'sbakah (type of sea plant), b?gwi's and b?gwå's (Merman and mermaid, resembling humans or monkeys), mountain goat with only one horn, fireweed. Sometimes referred to as Grizzly Bear Clan.
    • Clan cry / call: h?c h?c (Imitating the blow hole of an orca)

G'psgolox totem pole

The year was 1872 and the Haisla Nation, located in the north of what we now call British Columbia, was riddled with a smallpox epidemic that decimated the population, killing the vast majority of the inhabitants. Chief G'psgolox, leader of the Eagle Clan of the Haisla tribe, watched in horror as his friends and all of his family died in terrible pain. One day, he went into the forest to ask for help and met with the spirits Tsooda and Zola. The spirits told Chief G'psgolox to go to the edge of a mountain the next morning at dawn, where he would see his deceased people and learn to heal those still living. Chief G'psgolox complied and gained vital knowledge, learning the nature of the spirits, the Haisla spirit of continuance and transition. As a thank you to the spirits for their help, Chief G'psgolox commissioned a nine-meter-tall totem pole with three figures. The bottom two figures commemorated the deceased and on top represents the  T'sooda spirit and he is wearing a hat.[8] The pole, while commemorating the dead, told the tale of Haisla survival and comforted the Haisla as they returned to their summer grounds, once the site of so much sadness. The G'psgolox Pole, as it later came to be known, stood tall and proud until 1929, when the Haisla returned to the site and found that the pole had vanished. Little that they know in 1928 Olof Hanson the Swedish vice-president to British Columbia summited a request to the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs to acquire a pole and in 1929 Olof was granted permission to cut down a totem pole and take it to Sweden. Olof chose the G'psgolox Pole and cut it at the base while the Haisla were away due to seasonal living patterns. Olof donated the G'psgolox Pole to the Swedish National Museum of Ethnography that same year. The museum had the pole in storage for many years until they had a proper building to display it. After years of trying to figure out what happened to the pole some members of the Haisla Nation heard rumours that the pole may have been up for display in Sweden, it was then that they decided to travel to Sweden to investigate the rumours, once they confirm that the pole in display was the G'psgolox Pole the Haisla nation as asked for its repatriation. In 1992 a member of the Museum of Ethnography travelled to the Haisla village in British Columbia where he was told by the Haisla people that the pole was stolen from them and that they had been avidly searching for it without success since the theft in 1929 and that now that is found it had to be returned to its rightful owners. The Haisla people offer to carve identical totem replica in exchange for the original.[9] The museum agreed to the proposal by the Haisla people and in 1994 the Swedish government granted permission to the museum to gift the totem pole to the Haisla people with the condition that the replica has to be an exact match to the original. In the year 2000 the Haisla community completed two replicas of the pole, one was destined for Sweden while the other was to be placed where once the G'psgolox Pole stood tall.[10] The Haisla nation also build a historical preservation centre in the Kitimaat Village that would host the pole once it arrived from the museum. Finally, in 2006 after 77 years at the museum and over one hundred years since its disappearance from Misk'usa village, the pole finally arrived at the Kitimaat Village in British Columbia, its final destination.

Oolichan fishing

Oolichan is a smelt fish that is so oily that the oil can be made to burn like a candle, hence the name candlefish. For many West Coast Nations, the oolichan has been known to indigenous people as the saviour fish, the fish represents fresh food after a long winter. Oolican grease was one of the most valuable resources to the Haisla, as this was a valuable commodity used in trading with other tribes.[11] The process of extracting the fat is by boiling the oolichan in large cedar boxed until the grease separated from the meat and rose to the top, from there the fat needs to be skimmed off and poured into other containers for storage to be later trade of eaten throughout the year.[12] Making Oolican oil / grease is very labor-intensive work, and would often include the entire tribe. Women were in charge of making the nets used in fishing for oolichans. Nets were made from harvesting stinging nettles and spinning the fiber into twine. Knitting the intricate nets usually took about three months, and when finished measured 50 feet long, 24 feet wide at the mouth, narrowing to 2 feet.[13] When the oolichan nets were made with care, they could last upwards of 10 years.[13]

Potlatch and feasting

The potlatch began with the introduction of the mass production of goods within indigenous settlements along the Canadian Pacific coast, mainly British Columbia as well as some parts of the United States such as Oregon and Washington. The potlach word comes from the Chinook jargon that was mainly used for trading purposes in the villages along the Pacific coast of Canada, and it means to "give".[14] The increases in wealth during this period increased the wealth of many individuals within the indigenous communities and many individuals that had accumulated large amounts of wealth felt that by giving away their wealth they could gain a higher social status within their community. The potlatch is a ceremony that marks a feast that celebrates a special event such as redress family dishonor, funerals, births and marriage. Indigenous people along the Canadian and US Pacific coast have been practicing these rites for hundreds of years and these ceremonies often last a few days.[15] Historically, the potlatch was a very important social event for the Haisla people. The potlatch served to redistribute goods throughout the tribe. Giving away material wealth at a potlatch was the most significant way of maintaining and improving social standing.[15] These type of ceremonies are an important part of the indigenous culture and is not uncommon for the host indigenous nation of the potlatch to secure a loan so to accommodate for needs and necessities of their guests' during the festivities. Some of the activities that take place during these ceremonies are: dancing, singing storytelling and feasting. The purpose of these rituals is to get indigenous nations together, to build stronger social and cultural ties, for this reason, the hosts of the potlach usually give away most or all of their wealth as by doing so boosts their social status within their community and secures a place for them in their cultural social hierarchy. The potlatch requires so much material goods that often clans would need to work together in order to make and gather enough supplies to host a potlatch.[13]


Dances are normally performed during wintertime at great feasts and potlatches. The Haisla have a series of dances that they perform, which are ranked from the lowest to highest. The lowest dances are usually performed by younger members and commoners, while the higher dances are reserved for nobles and chiefs. Participants in the dance are recognized by the "five vertical streaks on both sides of the face".[6] The three highest dances are secret, called hai'likula (a word meaning magical or shamanistic) and commoners are not permitted to know the details. Jesters are used to entertain the crowd as dancers would make their preparations behind a screen. They also will dance in select dances. The position of jester is hereditary via the matrilineal line. The preparation for the higher dances is reserved for nobleman and woman, as they are the only members of the tribe that are permitted to witness these preparations. Although noblewomen were not permitted to dance in the higher dances, they were involved in helping with the preparations.  These highest three dances also include the use of whistles and rattles, and the tone of the whistle is distinctive to the dance being performed. Members of the two highest dances are thought to possess magical powers.[6]

Series of Dances, starting with the lowest:

1) Mitla

This dance is usually performed by younger nobles and commoners into advanced years. Most adult nobleman would have long "graduated" from performing this dance, unless he is childless and / or unable to pass on the dance.

2) Glo'ala'ha ("came down a second time")

This dance, like the Mitla, is a common dance.

3) Ula'la

This is the highest of the common dances, and you must be a potential noble to dance. These participants are permitted to witness preparations for the higher dances. The dancers are usually sons of nobleman, who wish to begin preparing them for the higher dances.

4) Nutlåm

The Hisla people believe that this dance originated at Kemano with the (Kitlope) tribe. This is referred to the dog-eater dance, and participants adorn dog skulls when dancing. The number of skulls worn is determined by the number of dogs that the individual has killed and devoured. Historically, the Haisla people believed eating dog meat or human flesh was poisonous. Those who were able to ingest the meat and survive were seen as special.

5) Nu'ntlsista (means dizzy or crazy)

This dance is also referred to as the fire dance. It is considered the second most important dance to the Haisla people. In this dance, the dancers wear their hair matted and act crazy. If anyone in the audience smiles, laughs or speaks they are set upon by the dancers. To demonstrate their might, dancers will walk on hot coals. You must be a nobleman to participate in this dance.

6) Tanish

A Haihais word meaning cannibal or man-eater. The right to participate in the Tanish dance is by inheritance only, with a few exceptions such as a dowry gift. Women are not allowed to dance, but they help with preparations for this dance and act as attendants.


The Haisla language is spoken by the descendants of the Gitamaat and Kitlope bands from the Kitimat area of the northern coast of British Columbia.[16] Haisla is a Northern Wakashan language spoken by several hundred people. Haisla is geographically the northernmost Wakashan language. Its nearest Wakashan neighbour is Oowekyala. Haisla is related to the other North Wakashan languages, Wuikyala, Heiltsuk, and Kwak'wala. The Haisla language consists of two dialects, sometimes defined as sublanguages - Kitamaat and Kitlope (also known as X̣enaksialak'ala). Haisla names are written in a phonemic alphabet[17] that allows the sounds of the language to be distinguished from that of other indigenous people. Several scientific alphabets have been used for writing Haisla and a transcription system devised by Emmon Bach is used to be able to read the Haisla inscriptions.

In popular culture

  • The book Monkey Beach, by Canadian author Eden Robinson, follows the lives of a Haisla teenager and her family.[18]
  • Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson was released in 2017. This novel follows Jared through his grade 10 years in Kitimat and his first encounters with magic. The Canadian television series Trickster based on the novel premiered in 2020.
  • The Snotty Nose Rez Kids are a Hip Hop duo from the Haisla Nation. They won the Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year in 2019.[19]


  1. ^ http://haisla.ca/
  2. ^ a b admin. "About the Haisla". Haisla Nation. Retrieved .
  3. ^ Kundoque, Jacquie Green (2008). "Reclaiming Haisla Ways: Remembering Oolican Fishing". Canadian Journal of Native Education. 31: 11 – via Canadian Business and Current Affairs Database.
  4. ^ "Kitamaat Village Community Observatory | Ocean Networks Canada". www.oceannetworks.ca. Retrieved .
  5. ^ http://haisla.ca/news/latest-news-2/#iLightbox[gallery]/0
  6. ^ a b c d Olson, Ronald L. (1940). "The Social Organization of the Haisla of British Columbia". Anthropological Records. 2 (5): 169-185.
  7. ^ a b Kelm, Mary-Ellen (2006). The Letters of Margaret Butcher: Missionary-Imperialism on the North Pacific Coast. Calgary, Canada: University of Calgary Press. pp. xv. ISBN 1-55238-166-8.
  8. ^ "Aboriginal First Nations Native American Culture history spirituality traditions legends values repatriation protection". www.turtleisland.org. Retrieved .
  9. ^ "G'psgolox Totem Pole - Haisla and Sweden and the Stockholm Museum of Ethnography -- Centre du droit de l'art". plone.unige.ch. Retrieved .
  10. ^ "CM Magazine: Totem: The Return of the G'psgolox Pole". umanitoba.ca. Retrieved .
  11. ^ Government, Gingolx Village. "Ways of Life - Ancient Villages and Totem Poles of the Nisga'a". www.gingolx.ca. Retrieved .
  12. ^ "What is an "oolichan?"". Office for Science and Society. Retrieved .
  13. ^ a b c Robinson, Gordon (1965). Tales of Kitamaat. Kitimat, B.C: Northern Sentinel Press. pp. 39-40.
  14. ^ "The Potlatch Ceremony". Retrieved .
  15. ^ a b "Potlatch | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved .
  16. ^ admin. "Culture". Haisla Nation. Retrieved .
  17. ^ phonemic alphabet
  18. ^ "Monkey Beach". CBC Books. CBC. Retrieved 2016.
  19. ^ "2019 INDIGENOUS MUSIC ALBUM OF THE YEAR | Snotty Nose Rez Kids". The JUNO Awards. Retrieved .

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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