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5 DESCENT, CONTINUITY, AND IDENTITY UNDER COLONIALISM 205 M uch 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 already constituted. The Tsimshian naming system and the understanding of history in the adawx provide a sense of continuity through all of the vicissitudes of history. The very fact of a recited adawx bespeaks a common thread, the maintenance of a matrilineal bloodline, through all of the disruptive events told in the chronicle’s chapters: only true descendants (or their authorized spokespeople) have the right to tell a lineage history. Likewise, the Tsimshian naming system fits new people into a preexisting structure that this bloodline maps. Nonetheless, Tsimshian history as represented in the adawx is linear, open-ended, and cocreated by willful actors. The adawx are explicit that these actors have often been strangers embedded in different worldviews and different concepts of personhood. In Tsimshian oral tradition, a narrative that accounts for the current social reality of the tellers and hearers never asserts that the current social order has existed “since time immemorial” or that it was bequeathed by some supernatural agency as the only possible or legitimate social order.1 (The contrast with, say, Victorian Christianity is sobering.) This indigenous understanding of history and culture, implicit in the adawx, has informed historic contact between the Tsimshian and neighboring aboriginal nations as well as Tsimshians’ encounters with the encroaching light-skinned kamsiiwa. But, as I hope to show, Tsimshian values that are deeper than any principle of lineality have structured relations with non-Tsimshians. These include not only a spirit of respectful international diplomacy but also an essentialization of publicly validated name-titles and the privileges they represent as legitimate claims to continuity and sovereignty. This essentialization is the inviolable fundament of Tsimshian culture and provides the strongest mode of resistance to the imposition of a pan– North American racial order that marginalizes and divides them. Personhood and the Dynamics of Contact The nested identities in which village Tsimshians partake (name, house, wilnaat’aa¬, clan—with wilnaat’aa¬ structures crosscut by organization into village polities) are only part of what informs Tsimshian subjectivity today, though for many it is the most important part. Tsimshians are also embedded in other nested identities, some dictated by the Department of Indian Affairs. These include band membership, which can be at odds with village polity (galtsap) membership. There is a Kitsumkalum band and there is a Kitsumkalum tribe, but some members of each do not belong to the other. This is true also for Kitkatla, Kitselas, and so on. Meanwhile, although Lax Kwalaams village sits on Gispaxloots territory, the Lax Kwalaams Band embraces nine galtsap identities, while there is no one galtsap identity corresponding to the Metlakatla (British Columbia) Band. Above this level is the occasional organization of band polities in British Columbia into tribal councils roughly corresponding to some of the familiar major ethnolinguistic groupings identified by anthropologists . All Canadian Tsimshian bands belonged to the Tsimshian Tribal Council until the political crisis that led to its dissolution in 2005, but the situation is more complicated for the Kitasoo Band at Klemtu, where Xaixais (Wakashan speakers formerly grouped by anthropologists as “northern Kwakiutl”) live alongside members of the Gidestsu tribe of Tsimshians. Intermarriage between Tsimshians and Xaixais at Klemtu has resulted in a particularly complex situation for the generations that are the product of this blending of unilineal (matrilineal Tsimshian) and more or less bilateral (Xaixais) descent structures (Miller 1978, 1981, 206 Descent, Continuity, and Identity under Colonialism 1982). For Tsimshians of Metlakatla, Alaska, membership in one of the fourteen galtsitsap, which is not always forefront in people’s minds, crosscuts at times membership in Alaska Native corporations that have their own principles of recruitment. And looming above it all are the superimposed ideologies that have had a lasting imprint on the North American ethnoscape, attempting to answer the policy question, “what makes a person an Indian?” This concluding chapter addresses these facts of modern Tsimshian life and indicates some of the relationships between indigenous and colonial identity structures. It is important first to realize that the aboriginal Tsimshian worldview recognized the possibility of different descent structures and saw the privileging of one over...


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