Gitselasu (Kitselas)

Gitselasu or Kitselas, which means ‘People of the Canyon’, are part of the Tsimshian language family and their territory borders on that of the Gitxsan in Northwestern British Columbia. The Kitselas Canyon is about 1.7 kilometers long, and the area had five known traditional villages. On the Eastern side of the Skeena River were Gitsaex and Gitaus villages. Located on a small island was the fortified village of Gitlaxdzawk (The Fortress). Near the mouth of the bay was the village of Tsunyow. The fifth village (not shown), known today as the archaeological site of Paul Mason, was named for an elder who was one of the people who discovered the site.

Kitselas Canyon topographic map showing four traditional village sites. Map by G.F. MacDonald, 1979.


This post was one of four corner posts of Chief Gaum's house. Photo by H.I. Smith, 1927.

Many of the former villages in the Kitselas Canyon were abandoned due to the small pox epidemics of the late 19th century. During this time, the remnant populations came together in what are today the two core villages of the area, Gitaus and Kulspai.

A number of early ethnographers have published materials on the Gitselasu villages. They include: G.A. Dorsey who wrote Geography of the Tsimshian Indians, which was published in the American Antiquarian in 1897; George T. Emmons who wrote the Kitselas of British Columbia published in the journal American Anthropology in 1912; Louis Shotridge who wrote A visit to the Tsimshian Indians published in the Musuem Journal of Pennsylvania in 1918; and Marius Barbeau who wrote Totem Poles: Volume I and II in 1950.

Archaeoligists who have drawn on these resources include the editors of Skeena River Prehistory (1979), Richard Inglis and George MacDonald, and Gary Coupland who wrote Prehistoric Cultural Change at Kitselas Canyon published in 1988.

Textual information for this page: Berthiaum R. 1999. The Gitselasu: The People of Kitselas Canyon, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada: www.ainc-inac.gc.ca; Kitselas First Nations Website: www.kitselas.bc.ca.