Tsimshian Killer Whale Clans


The Gispwudwada or Gisbutwada is the name for the Killer Whale clan (phratry) in the language of the Tsimshian nation of British Columbia, Canada, and southeast Alaska. The chief crests of the Gispwudwada are the Killerwhale (a.k.a. orca) (‘neexł in Tsimshian) and Grizzly Bear (midiik).

It is considered analogous or identical to the Gisgahaast (Gisk’aast) clan in British Columbia’s Gitxsan nation and the Gisḵ’ahaast/Gisḵ’aast Tribe of the Nisg̱a’a. The Nisg̱a’a also call this group the Killer Whale Tribe, though the Gitxsan use the term Fireweed clan; Gisgahaast means literally “people of the fireweed.”

Tsimshian matrilineal houses belonging to the Gispwudwada tend to belong to one of two groups, the Git’mlaxam and the Gitnagwinaks.


The Git’mlaxam trace their origins to the legendary Temlaxam (a.k.a. Temlaham, Dimlahamid) or “Prairie Town” on the Skeena River in what is now Gitksan territory. The Git’mlaxam can be further subdivided. Git’mlaxam house-groups among the Tsimshian include the royal House of Ts’ibasaa in the Gitkxaała (Kitkatla) tribe.


The Gitnagwinaks (sometimes spelled Nagunaks) trace their migrations southward, to the vicinity of the Kitasoo Tsimshians at Klemtu, B.C. In a discussion of the Bear Mother myth, the anthropologist Marius Barbeau in 1950 published information recorded by the Tsimshian ethnologist William Beynon from his fellow Gitlaan Tsimshian E. Maxwell which describes a dispute among the Kitasoo Gispwudwada house-heads Wuts’iint, Dzagmsagisk, and T’amks as to ownership of certain crest privileges, resulting in migration to Kitkatla, Gitwilgyoots, and Gitlaan tribes of Tsimshians.

Gitnagwinaks crests:

  • Grizzly Bear of the Sea (midiigm ts’m ‘aks)
  • Double-Finned Killerwhale (wüsngoopskinm née’x ‘neexł)
  • Killerwhale with Fins All Around (txatkunee’xs)
  • Ligidadools, wife of the monster chief of the Nagwinaks

Nisg̱a’a – Gisḵ’ahaast (People among the Fireweed)

  • House of Ẁii Seeks – Ivan Mercer
  • House of Wisinxbiĺtkw – Andrew Mercer. The late Ẁii Lisims (Frank Calder) was from this House.
  • House of Daax̱an – Perry Azak
  • House of Ni’isýuus – Willard Martin
  • House of Ḵ’amksiiwaa – (Previously James Stevens) W̓ii Lax̱ha – Peter Stevens

Most Common Crests of Nass River Gisk’ahaast are:

  • Hlguwilksihlgum N̓eekhl (Prince Killer Whale)
  • Midiigim Tsa’W̓ii Aks (Grizzly Bear of The Big Water) Used Only By The Royal T’imlaxaam Houses
  • k’utk’unukws (Owl)
  • Psday̓ (Grouse)
  • Haḵ (Goose)
  • Hloks (Sun)
  • Hloksim Axkw (Moon)
  • Bilist (Star)
  • Maxmak’ay (Rainbow)