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Becoming Tsimshian

The Social Life of Names

by Christopher F. Roth

Publication Year: 2008

The Tsimshian people of coastal British Columbia use a system of hereditary name-titles in which names are treated as objects of inheritable wealth. Human agency and social status reside in names rather than in the individuals who hold these names, and the politics of succession associated with names and name-taking rituals have been, and continue to be, at the center of Tsimshian life.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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p. v

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A Note on the Orthography

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pp. vii-ix

The orthography used here is a version of the Sm'algyax spelling system used by the Ts'msyeen Sm'algyax Authority, the (erstwhile) Tsimshian Tribal Council, as well as the treaty offices of the individual Tsimshian bands in British Columbia. Its pedigree can be traced to Lonnie Hindle and ...

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pp. xi-xiv

I am most indebted to the people of Kitsumkalum, especially the staff of the Kitsumkalum Tribal Claims Office (a.k.a. Treaty Office) over the years—Alex Bolton, Allan Bolton, Sheila Bolton, the late Linda Horner, Sherry-Vaughn Lewis, and others. Alex and Allan Bolton in particular have been constant sources of ...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 3-29

For understanding processes of social reproduction on the Northwest Coast, there is no more central phenomenon than the assumption and bestowal of hereditary name-titles. For the Tsimshian of northwestern British Columbia in particular, naming practices tie together different ways in which actors are or become ...

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2 Names as People

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pp. 30-101

A Tsimshian once said to me, “People are nothing. They’re not important at all. It’s the names that are really real.” While human bodies with their prosaic English names—inscribed on birth certificates and gravestones—are mortal, transient things, the hereditary “Indian names” that Tsimshian bodies wear are immortal, ...

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3 Names as Wealth

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pp. 102-159

Having established the concepts, understandings, and social structures on which naming depends, I explore here the conditions, assumptions, and meanings underlying the ritual act of naming in Tsimshian potlatches, called in English feasts. I argue that all of the goods and activities at a feast are mobilized to signify ...

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4 History and Structure in Tsimshian Lineage Consciousness

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pp. 160-204

Hereditary names are the sites of social valuation of Tsimshian identity, patrimony, and sociality. A name, further, is always rooted in a particular house lineage. The valuation of a lineage and the public recognition of it as embodied in a chiefly title are what feasts and their ancillary ritual cycles are about. I tried in the previous ...

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5 Descent, Continuity, and Identity under Colonialism

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pp. 205-220

Much of this book so far concerns how recognized continuities in subjectivity are constructed and held to be maintained despite the facts of human life, which include the changes wrought by history and the quandary of how to fit new people (newborns, foreign spouses, invaders, settlers) into a social structure as ...

Appendix A. Glossary

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pp. 221-226

Appendix B. Tsimshian Houses

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pp. 227-234


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pp. 235-246


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pp. 247-266


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pp. 267-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780295989235
E-ISBN-10: 0295989238
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295988078
Print-ISBN-10: 029598807X

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2008

OCLC Number: 646794821
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Becoming Tsimshian

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Naming ceremonies -- British Columbia.
  • Tsimshian Indians -- Name.
  • Names, Tsimshian -- History.
  • Tsimshian Indians -- Social life and customs.
  • Tsimshian language -- Etymology.
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