Traditional Economy

The Tsimshian proved to be shrewd business people who early European fur traders learned were formidable commercial competitors.

The Tsimshian had vast experience facilitating inter-tribal trade given their pivotal location on the coast. Tribal leaders originally utilized trade with Europeans to further develop their cultures under their own distinctive lines.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the Tsimshian were significantly involved in industrial production, manufacturing, mercantile enterprises, and wage labour. The traditional economy of the Tsimshian was largely based on fishing, hunting and trapping. Today, we are involved in the fishing industry, aquaculture, forestry, and are seeking to rebuild our financial system by constructively engaging in the market economy.


Our future is our youth and students, but the people of Lax Kw’alaams also have a storied history as musicians, sportsmen, artists and storytellers with a sense of humor.


Tsimshian art has provided and continues to inspire some excellent monumental and fine art design pieces in the world. Our abundance of natural resources provided the opportunity to adorn the traditional longhouses, regalia and ceremonial pieces with stunning artistry and design, which proudly heralds the crests and lineages of Tsimshian people. Tribes such as the Tlingit claim that their inspiration to weave beautiful Chilkat blankets and other pieces of art can be traced back to Tsimshian origins.

Contemporary Lax Kw’alaams artists, such as master carver Wii Gwiinatt (Henry Green) and fine artist and designer Bill Helin, continue to push the artistic boundaries first set by our ancient ancestors.

Some famous historical Lax Kw’alaams carvers and artists include:

  • Frederick Alexcee
  • Charles Dudoward

Other contemporary artists and carvers who have roots in Lax Kw’alaams are:

  • Russell Mather
  • William White
  • Ed Bryant
  • Sam Bryant
  • Leanne Helin
  • Terry Starr
  • Shannon Thunderbird
  • Alex Helin
  • Jennifer Russell
  • Roger Gray
  • Corey Moraes
  • Dorothy Jarvis
  • Betty Sampson


Oil Painting by Charles Dudoward hanging at the Lax Kw'alaams Band Engraved plate reads "finishing of Chief's Canoe" 1971


When Europeans first encountered the Tsimshians of Lax kw’alaams, they were struck not only by how musical they were in their own cultural practices but by how readily they took to European music and musical instruments.

The Tsimshians of Lax Kw’alaams produced some of the finest church choirs on the northwest coast, and Lax Kw’alaams has created some of the finest brass and concert bands of this era.

Lax Kw’alaams brass bands and subsequent concert bands won many awards throughout their distinguished history and were present at almost every ceremony, occasion and exposition.

Port Simpson Brass Band leads a wedding procession, 1890
Port Simpson Concert Band in Prince Rupert, year unknown
Lax Kw'alaams Concert Band 1960
Coast Tsimshian Academy Band at Seafest, Prince Rupert, B.C. with Band teacher Pat Dudoward, 2018


The people of Lax Kw’alaams were always avid competitors in the arena of sports. In the past, two athletic clubs vied for supremacy in the community of Lax Kw’alaams. Families either belonged to the Young Peoples Athletic Association, which had its gym on the waterfront, or the Club Hall, which was located up the road. At the end of each year, there would be heated competitions between the two clubs for supremacy in the Tsimshian sport of choice: basketball.

Some noted Lax Kw’alaams athletes who played at the biggest Aboriginal basketball tournament in North America, the All Native Tournament, are:

  • Art Helin, MVP, 1962, 1966  – also winner of the prestigious Tom Longboat Award
  • Gary Reece, MVP, 1979

The Young Peoples Athletic Association and Club Hall would also sponsor their own annual parties, the Snowball Frolic and the Garden Party, respectively. Community members would always look forward to these great events.

At the beginning of every summer there would be a sports day that would feature track and field events, boat races, etc.

Today, our youth enjoy a variety of sports at the Community Leisure Centre.

Congratulations to Malcolm Sampson on being inducted in to the All Native Tournament Hall of Fame 2022
Strikeforce 2016 Champs with coach Malcolm Sampson
Other noted Tsimshians

There are many other distinguished Tsimshians who have roots in Lax Kw’alaams, including:

  • Gayle Bedard, educator and Aboriginal district principal (Surrey), raised in Lax Kw’alaams (parents Ben and Merle Hughes)
  • Brenda Camfferman, registered nurse and karate instructor
  • Henry Green, master carver and distinguished artist born and raised in the community
  • Bill Helin, master carver, designer and jeweler, son of prominent Gits’iis subchief Hyemass (Art Helin)
  • Calvin Helin, author, lawyer, karate instructor and entrepreneur, son of former chief of Gitlan tribe, Sm’ooygit Niis Nuuga Noos (Barry Helin), and matron of Gitankangiik tribe Sigydm hana’a SuDalx (Verna Helin)
  • Sharon Helin
  • Rudy Kelly, journalist, humorist and playwright
  • Gloria Mackerenko, journalist with CBC News, originally hails from the Reid family of Lax Kw’alaams
  • Kerry Sugiyama, programming coordinator (western), Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, daughter of Brenda and Norman Moraes
Henry Green with his artwork 2015

Comments are closed.

Close Search Window