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A Glimpse of Gitxsan Traditional Knowledge and Legal System ©

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A brief look at the Gitxsan Community;
Tribes, House (Clans), Crests;
How a Hereditary Chiefs are chosen;
Functions of the House;
Basic Gitxsan Law;
Totem Poles

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A Glimpse of Gitxsan Traditional Knowledge and Legal System ©

  1. 1. Gitxsan CommunityGitxsan Community A glimpse of Gitxsan TraditionalA glimpse of Gitxsan Traditional Knowledge and legal systemKnowledge and legal system © Produced by:Produced by: Chief Woo’Sim’Lax’ha Peggy Morgan, Ugh de’ wil gal umChief Woo’Sim’Lax’ha Peggy Morgan, Ugh de’ wil gal um Stephanie Morgan (Fireweed Tribe)Stephanie Morgan (Fireweed Tribe) and Chiefand Chief Gaakl, Verney Morgan (Frog Tribe)Gaakl, Verney Morgan (Frog Tribe)
  2. 2. Our AncestorsOur Ancestors  Our belief is god is with us and god is in us,Our belief is god is with us and god is in us, everything is sacred in all that we do, our spiriteverything is sacred in all that we do, our spirit speaks to all other spirits respectfullyspeaks to all other spirits respectfully  Everything is done with the involvement of theEverything is done with the involvement of the ancestors and the creatorancestors and the creator  Everything aboriginal people do begins with andEverything aboriginal people do begins with and ends with prayerends with prayer  We call the ancestors into our meeting to doWe call the ancestors into our meeting to do everything in a good way and with all respecteverything in a good way and with all respect  then end in prayer of thanks and to end withthen end in prayer of thanks and to end with goodnessgoodness
  3. 3. Other notes;Other notes;  The Gitxsan history, laws, and systems haveThe Gitxsan history, laws, and systems have always been passed orally from generation toalways been passed orally from generation to generation; this accommodates change andgeneration; this accommodates change and room to evolveroom to evolve  100’s of Witnesses from each Tribe keep note of100’s of Witnesses from each Tribe keep note of all proceedings and changes made at eachall proceedings and changes made at each PotlatchPotlatch  The government-paid agents follow CanadianThe government-paid agents follow Canadian government laws and are separate from thegovernment laws and are separate from the Gitxsan laws and systemsGitxsan laws and systems – These agents include elected Chiefs, band managers,These agents include elected Chiefs, band managers, negotiators, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canadanegotiators, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada
  4. 4. What we will coverWhat we will cover  Tribes, House (Clans), CrestsTribes, House (Clans), Crests  Structure of the HouseStructure of the House  Choosing a Hereditary ChiefChoosing a Hereditary Chief  Functions of the HouseFunctions of the House  Basic Gitxsan LawBasic Gitxsan Law  Totem PolesTotem Poles
  5. 5. Tribes, House (Clans), CrestsTribes, House (Clans), Crests MatriarchyMatriarchy Mirriam Webster DictionaryMirriam Webster Dictionary ““Main Entry:Main Entry: ma·tri·ar·chyma·tri·ar·chy – Pronunciation: Pronunciation: ˈˈmā-trē-mā-trē-ˌˌär-kēär-kē – Function:Function: nounnoun – Inflected Form(s):Inflected Form(s): pluralplural ma·tri·ar·chiesma·tri·ar·chies – Date: 1885Date: 1885 – 11 :: a family, group, or state governed by aa family, group, or state governed by a matriarchmatriarch – 22 :: a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traceda system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line”through the female line”
  6. 6. There are 4 Gitxsan TribesThere are 4 Gitxsan Tribes  Fire WeedFire Weed (Killer Whale)(Killer Whale)  FrogFrog  WolfWolf  EagleEagle
  7. 7. Basic Gitxsan LawBasic Gitxsan Law  All law is based on respect for all spiritual lifeAll law is based on respect for all spiritual life  The Gitxsan follow a system of matriarchThe Gitxsan follow a system of matriarch  Gitxsan Identity is determined by who theGitxsan Identity is determined by who the mother ismother is – If the mother is Gitxsan then the child is GitxsanIf the mother is Gitxsan then the child is Gitxsan  At all times Gitxsan present their Nation, tribeAt all times Gitxsan present their Nation, tribe and House, when entering into potlatch, combat,and House, when entering into potlatch, combat, debate, or statement;debate, or statement; – status (tribe, house, name) must be given to allstatus (tribe, house, name) must be given to all parties and witnesses to be acknowledgedparties and witnesses to be acknowledged – Each house has a crest that is used also asEach house has a crest that is used also as identificationidentification
  8. 8. CrestsCrests
  9. 9. House (Clans)House (Clans)  Each Tribe is divided into HousesEach Tribe is divided into Houses  The Gitxsan follow a law of matriarchyThe Gitxsan follow a law of matriarchy – The children will be in the same House as theThe children will be in the same House as the mothermother  If the Father is Fireweed and the mother is Frog,If the Father is Fireweed and the mother is Frog, the children will be Frog;the children will be Frog;  If the father is Gitxsan and the mother is not, theIf the father is Gitxsan and the mother is not, the children are not considered Gitxsanchildren are not considered Gitxsan
  10. 10. House/Clan structureHouse/Clan structure Head Chief Wing Chief Wing Chief Adults Advocates Women Men Protectors Teachers Adopted Honorary Members
  11. 11. Choosing a Hereditary ChiefChoosing a Hereditary Chief  Hereditary Chiefs are chosen by the House, and will hold title toHereditary Chiefs are chosen by the House, and will hold title to landland  Chiefs from the house have final say on who will take the title of theChiefs from the house have final say on who will take the title of the last Chieflast Chief  Some factors considered when choosing a chief:Some factors considered when choosing a chief: – Blood LineageBlood Lineage – committed to the communitycommitted to the community – respectfulrespectful – hard workinghard working – knowledgeableknowledgeable – IncomeIncome  A female or male may be considered to take the Chiefs titleA female or male may be considered to take the Chiefs title – If it’s a woman being considered, the more children she has is favorableIf it’s a woman being considered, the more children she has is favorable  The character of the children is also consideredThe character of the children is also considered  The head chief takes on the name of the HouseThe head chief takes on the name of the House – For instance if the house is “A vessel overflowing with Heaven” then theFor instance if the house is “A vessel overflowing with Heaven” then the head Chiefs name will be “A vessel overflowing with Heaven”head Chiefs name will be “A vessel overflowing with Heaven”
  12. 12. Atti uu’ u’ (wing chief) and Gil ga’ jetix’ (granddaughter) Function of the HouseFunction of the House
  13. 13. Function of the ChiefFunction of the Chief  presents to the Gitxsan and Community what thepresents to the Gitxsan and Community what the House has decided, any proceedings that willHouse has decided, any proceedings that will take place, clarifies laws and land titletake place, clarifies laws and land title  Meets with the other Hereditary Chiefs toMeets with the other Hereditary Chiefs to discuss issues, community matters that havediscuss issues, community matters that have been raised, liaises with the Housebeen raised, liaises with the House  Presents resolved or unresolved communityPresents resolved or unresolved community issues to the other chiefsissues to the other chiefs  Has decisive authority; however any use ofHas decisive authority; however any use of Gitxsan laws must be presented at the FeastGitxsan laws must be presented at the Feast (Potlatch) in witness of all tribes and be affirmed(Potlatch) in witness of all tribes and be affirmed or dismissed by Hereditary House Chiefsor dismissed by Hereditary House Chiefs
  14. 14. Function of the Wing ChiefsFunction of the Wing Chiefs  Works closely with the head Chief toWorks closely with the head Chief to decide best route of actiondecide best route of action  Stands in for head Chief if she/he is notStands in for head Chief if she/he is not available to attend functionavailable to attend function  Makes emergency and auxiliary decisionsMakes emergency and auxiliary decisions  Helps Gitxsan systems run smoothlyHelps Gitxsan systems run smoothly
  15. 15. Functioning Gitxsan CommunityFunctioning Gitxsan Community  Witnesses the proceedings at feastsWitnesses the proceedings at feasts (Potlatch)(Potlatch)  Knows, applies, and teaches GitxsanKnows, applies, and teaches Gitxsan Laws, traditions, values, and survivalLaws, traditions, values, and survival skillsskills  Advocates and liaises for youngerAdvocates and liaises for younger house membershouse members  Discusses with chiefs issues that mayDiscusses with chiefs issues that may arise, and presents possible solutionsarise, and presents possible solutions
  16. 16. Gitxsan AdoptionsGitxsan Adoptions  A person can be adopted into a GitxsanA person can be adopted into a Gitxsan House by the chief, or informally throughHouse by the chief, or informally through marriage and common law relationshipsmarriage and common law relationships  The adopted person can participate in theThe adopted person can participate in the Gitxsan functions, potlatch’s, and use theGitxsan functions, potlatch’s, and use the House crest to show who she or heHouse crest to show who she or he representsrepresents  The adopted person can not speak for orThe adopted person can not speak for or on behalf of the Gitxsan, Tribe or House,on behalf of the Gitxsan, Tribe or House, and does not hold any legal powerand does not hold any legal power
  17. 17. Copyright; Totem Poles can not be copied, they can be photographed; and only published with the chiefs consent
  18. 18. Totem PolesTotem Poles  The Totem Poles are raised when a generationThe Totem Poles are raised when a generation of House Chiefs have diedof House Chiefs have died  Totem Poles are read from the bottom upTotem Poles are read from the bottom up  At the start of the pole is the House TribeAt the start of the pole is the House Tribe  carvings are used that best represent thecarvings are used that best represent the experiences during their generationexperiences during their generation  Totem Poles are our history booksTotem Poles are our history books  The last surviving chiefs story is at the top of theThe last surviving chiefs story is at the top of the Totem PoleTotem Pole  The Gitxsan who takes the Head Chief name isThe Gitxsan who takes the Head Chief name is responsible to Raise the Poleresponsible to Raise the Pole
  19. 19. The Feast (Potlatch)The Feast (Potlatch) DeathDeath MarriageMarriage ShameShame Celebration/HonorCelebration/Honor
  20. 20. When a person dies, it is the house andWhen a person dies, it is the house and tribes responsibility to look after thetribes responsibility to look after the departed loved one. They are eitherdeparted loved one. They are either cremated or buried.cremated or buried.  Day 1: The Coming Home CeremonyDay 1: The Coming Home Ceremony  Day 2 : Smoke Feast (potlatch)Day 2 : Smoke Feast (potlatch)  Day 3: Memorial gatheringDay 3: Memorial gathering  Day 4: Funeral and Feast (Main Potlatch)Day 4: Funeral and Feast (Main Potlatch)  Day 5: (One year later) Stone Feast (Potlatch)Day 5: (One year later) Stone Feast (Potlatch)
  21. 21. Father TribeFather Tribe  The Father Tribe plays a vital role in the GitxsanThe Father Tribe plays a vital role in the Gitxsan Community, they act as support to the house.Community, they act as support to the house. The Father Tribe is paid at the potlatch for theirThe Father Tribe is paid at the potlatch for their integrity and workintegrity and work Gaakl, Frog Tribe Mom Father Tribe
  22. 22. Father TribeFather Tribe  Gaakl, Frog TribeGaakl, Frog Tribe  Workers are chosen from the Father Tribe BookWorkers are chosen from the Father Tribe Book Keepers keep track of everything that isKeepers keep track of everything that is contributed, from time of death to beginning ofcontributed, from time of death to beginning of Stone Feast/Potlatch which is a year later, andStone Feast/Potlatch which is a year later, and labourer to help with moving coffin and otherlabourer to help with moving coffin and other tasks.tasks.  All other tribe members will be paid at the MainAll other tribe members will be paid at the Main and Stone Potlatch for working, supporting, andand Stone Potlatch for working, supporting, and contributingcontributing  The Death Potlatch Ceremony usually lasts 4The Death Potlatch Ceremony usually lasts 4 daysdays
  23. 23. Day 1: The Coming Home CeremonyDay 1: The Coming Home Ceremony  A chosen person from the Father Tribe drives the bodyA chosen person from the Father Tribe drives the body home from the morguehome from the morgue  family follow in their vehicles to the home of the housefamily follow in their vehicles to the home of the house membermember  sometimes the drive is hundreds of miles.sometimes the drive is hundreds of miles.  The Coffin is set up with candles and a blanket cover, 4The Coffin is set up with candles and a blanket cover, 4 security are picked from the Father Tribe to watch oversecurity are picked from the Father Tribe to watch over the body 24/7 with rotating shifts day and night, they arethe body 24/7 with rotating shifts day and night, they are not to sleep while on watchnot to sleep while on watch  Food and refreshments are brought from all other tribes.Food and refreshments are brought from all other tribes. She will then be moved to someone’s home where theShe will then be moved to someone’s home where the watch will continue. Food is brought around the clock,watch will continue. Food is brought around the clock, and coffee, tea and beverages are kept on for all visitorsand coffee, tea and beverages are kept on for all visitors at all hours.at all hours.
  24. 24. Day 2 : Smoke Feast (potlatch)Day 2 : Smoke Feast (potlatch)  The smoke feast is when the chiefs gatherThe smoke feast is when the chiefs gather to decide how to proceed, who theto decide how to proceed, who the workers will be, where she will be buried,workers will be, where she will be buried, How much will be paid by each chief,How much will be paid by each chief, house and tribe member. The body is nothouse and tribe member. The body is not brought to the hall. Very few tribe memberbrought to the hall. Very few tribe member attend, only those who will distribute wordattend, only those who will distribute word to the tribes. Food is brought by all otherto the tribes. Food is brought by all other tribes.tribes.
  25. 25. Day 3:Day 3: Memorial / Celebration of LifeMemorial / Celebration of Life  The community gathers; chiefs, family, friendsThe community gathers; chiefs, family, friends and loved ones at a local hall where the coffin isand loved ones at a local hall where the coffin is broughtbrought  other tribes bring food and beveragesother tribes bring food and beverages  At all times the hired secretary (from other tribeAt all times the hired secretary (from other tribe or Father Tribe) takes note of who has broughtor Father Tribe) takes note of who has brought items brought.items brought.  each community take turns speaking and singingeach community take turns speaking and singing to the grieving family.to the grieving family.  At the end of gathering the coffin is brought backAt the end of gathering the coffin is brought back to the house for watch.to the house for watch.
  26. 26. Day 4: Funeral and Main FeastDay 4: Funeral and Main Feast  Chiefs FarewellChiefs Farewell  After Funeral and prayers are complete weAfter Funeral and prayers are complete we proceed to the hall for the Main FEAST.proceed to the hall for the Main FEAST.
  27. 27. After one year theAfter one year the Stone Feast is heldStone Feast is held (1 day Settlement Potlatch)(1 day Settlement Potlatch)  A smaller version of the first feast isA smaller version of the first feast is performedperformed  This is when the head stone is put up atThis is when the head stone is put up at the grave site, and all other expenses arethe grave site, and all other expenses are settled. Paying back father tribe, payingsettled. Paying back father tribe, paying people who may have helped you getpeople who may have helped you get home.home.
  28. 28.  This Potlatch has been practiced since timeThis Potlatch has been practiced since time immemorial. It is where we come together toimmemorial. It is where we come together to exercise traditional lawsexercise traditional laws  witnesses are invited from all tribes of the nationwitnesses are invited from all tribes of the nation  The Main House and Tribe is responsible to payThe Main House and Tribe is responsible to pay for everythingfor everything  TheThe father tribefather tribe is honored at every Feast andis honored at every Feast and usually contribute during theusually contribute during the  workers and contributorsworkers and contributors are from otherare from other tribes, they are paid at the Feast in clothing,tribes, they are paid at the Feast in clothing, blankets, other goods, and money.blankets, other goods, and money.
  29. 29. Other Community TopicsOther Community Topics  Respecting the Land and LifeRespecting the Land and Life  Ceremonies and RitualsCeremonies and Rituals – MedicinesMedicines  SurvivalSurvival

Editor's Notes

  • For the survival of the Gitxsan People
  • ×