Lax Kw’alaams are the descendants of the Nine Tribes of the Tsmishian, which consists of:

  • Giluts’aaw
  • Ginandoiks
  • Ginaxangiik
  • Gispaxlo’ots
  • Gitando
  • Gitlaan
  • Gits’iis
  • Gitwilgyoots
  • Gitzaxlaal

The Nine Tribes have lived in their territories for more than 10,000 years and their traditional language is Sm’algyax.

One of the most important pre-contact events in Lax Kw’alaams history was a series of wars with invaders from the north, the Tlingit, about 2,000 years ago. During the course of this war, the Nine Tribes consolidated their efforts and became one of the region’s most powerful political, economic and military powers, then proceeded to expand their influence.

By the time of contact, the Nine Tribes’ territories stretched up to the mouth of the Nass River, along the Skeena River to present day Terrace, and along the coast. Their influence over trade expanded deep into the interior following the “Grease Trails”, named after routes used to transport dried and reduced Eulachon, and as far up the Skeena watershed as Kispiox.

The rise of Nine Tribes influence and their dynastic Houses, or societies, was not the result of an abundance of resources but through alliance building, strategic marriage and the deployment of military power.

By the 1790s, American, British and Russian trading ships had come to the north coast of British Columbia to trade for sea otter pelts. By the 1810s, American traders increased their presence along the coast and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had established a series of forts in the interior to capitalize on the land-based fur trade. The HBC BC’s operations in this area were strongly influenced by Legex, a dynasty of chiefs from the Gispaxlo’ots tribe, who levied taxes in exchange for safe passage and the privilege to trade with American ships.

Fort Nass was established in 1831 but wasn’t well-positioned. In 1834, Fort Simpson was built at a camp site owned by Legex and known as Lax Kw’alaams (place of the wild roses). For the use of his territory, Legex imposed a fee to anyone who wanted to trade at the fort.

1830 to 1840 saw the Nine Tribes turn Lax Kw’alaams from a Gispaxlo’ots camp to a major settlement site. Increasingly important feasts and ceremonies were being held at Lax Kw’alaams and neighboring peoples, especially the Haida and Tlingit, became more regular visitors to Lax Kw’alaams.

In 1840, Legex died, leaving a power vacuum in the Nine Tribes, and the other eight tribes jockeyed for position and control of the lucrative trade around the HBC fort. Around the same time, Tsimshian people worked as wage laborer’s in wood cutting and logging, and were so important to the functioning of the fort that its entire existence was structured around the seasonal cycle of the Tsimshian. By 1856, Lax Kw’alaams was the most populous and important Nine Tribes settlement in their territories.

In 1858, gold was discovered on the Fraser River and British Columbia was established as a colony of Great Britain. By 1860, the HBC’s position at Lax Kw’alaams was weakening as the Nine Tribes increasingly took their goods to Victoria to sell for both greater profits and better trading options.

Around the same time, missionaries began to appear in Lax Kw’alaams. In 1860, an Anglican named William Duncan arrived, but did not stay long. He relocated with several Nine Tribes members to Metlakatla. Shortly after, a smallpox outbreak at Lax Kw’alaams convinced several more people to move to Metlakatla.

In 1871, B.C. joined Canada and matters related to Aboriginal people became federal jurisdiction. The same year, legislation such as a ban on commercial fishing by Aboriginal people changed the relationship of Aboriginal People and the government. Government policy towards Aboriginal people was intended to reorder three core components to their lives: their relationship with the land; their social structures; and the way they educated their young. For the most part, the government used missionaries to carry out these policies.

Thomas Crosby, a Methodist missionary, was invited to Lax Kw’alaams. Crosby encouraged the Nine Tribes to reject Tsimshian values and adopt European values, like the nuclear family. To that end, by 1877, thirty new houses had been built in Lax Kw’alaams. By 1880, 650 single family homes, and by the 1890s, all the traditional houses were gone along with their totem markers. The result of the increased demand for lumber meant a water-powered sawmill was built and Lax Kw’alaams people worked at that mill for nearly a century supplying other communities.

The introduction of William Duncan and Thomas Crosby is seen by most historians as the beginning of the colonization of the Nine Tribes. While early on the Nine Tribes adopted a number of European outlooks, it was within the larger context of the robust Tsimshian culture. However, the increased use of European trade goods for life’s staples like food, clothing and shelter, combined with increasingly harsh legislation, had a dramatic effect on the Nine Tribes.

One of the first industries Lax Kw’alaams developed was boat building. Lax Kw’alaams people built everything from small row boats to schooners, especially as fishing, sealing and whaling became important industries.


By 1900, Lax Kw’alaams, increasingly referred to as Port Simpson, was a small community of about 1,100 people, both of Aboriginal and European descent. The town had a number of industries, such as boat building, clam and salmon canning, and logging, all with Aboriginal owners. During this time, Lax Kw’alaams held the largest concentration of Aboriginally-owned businesses in the entire province.

Coast Tsimshian fishers were important to the regional catch and exercised considerable control over their labour. The Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) reported that, in the 1880s, Native productivity jumped from about $250,000 to $4 million. Credit for these spikes were largely attributed to the Tsimshian, and DIA consistently applauded their efforts. During this same period, the Nine Tribes became more vocal and insistent on their rights and title to the land.

Through the 20th century, federal government policies had the cumulative effect of segregating Aboriginal people from the mainstream economic and social society of an emerging Canadian culture. Restrictive fishing regulations made it impossible for Lax Kw’alaams people to continue their primary form of sustenance and economic wealth.

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