The Tsimshian (“people inside the Skeena River”) occupied a large land area on the Northwest coast of British Columbia. Though patterns of land ownership and utilization did not accord with European legal notions, the Tsimshian were nonethless quite sophisticated.
Each of the nine tribes of Lax Kw’alaams had their own distinct tribal lands that were understood to have clearly delineated natural boundaries such as rivers. Within those boundaries it was understood that the tribe had exclusive use and control of the natural resources contained therein. If another group wanted to use those resources or conduct trade within the area they had to receive permission from the tribe and often had to pay what amounted to a tax for those privileges.
The Tsimshian were referred by early European traders as the “Phoenicians of the northwest coast” for their exceptional trading abilities. They also proved to be shrewd business people, who the early fur traders learned were formidable commercial competitors. They had substantial experience prosecuting inter-tribal trade given their pivotal location on the coast. Tribal leaders originally exploited trade with Europeans to develop their cultures further under their own distinctive lines.
Throughout the nineteenth century the Tsimshian were significantly involved in industrial production, manufacturing, mercantile enterprises, and wage labor. Today, they are involved in the fishing industry, aquaculture, forestry, and are seeking to rebuild their economy by constructively engaging in the market economy.
The traditional economy of the Tsimshian was largely based on fishing, hunting, trapping.