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The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2)


Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Publisher Founding: December 1, 2014

Web Domain: 

Location: Fort Langley, Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Journal: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Journal Founding: August 2, 2012

Frequency: Three (3) Times Per Year

Review Status: Non-Peer-Reviewed

Access: Electronic/Digital & Open Access

Fees: None (Free)

Volume Numbering: 11

Issue Numbering: 1

Section: E

Theme Type: Idea

Theme Premise: “Outliers and Outsiders”

Theme Part: 26

Formal Sub-Theme: “The Tsimshian”

Individual Publication Date: December 8, 2022

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2023

Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewer(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Interviewee(s): Corey Moraes

Word Count: 2,907

Image Credit: None.

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN): 2369-6885

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citations, after the interview.*

*Interview conducted on May 3, 2020.*


Corey Moraes is Tsimshian. He was born April 14, 1970, in Seattle, Washington. He has worked in both the U.S.A. and in Canada. He has painted canoes for Vision Quest Journeys (1997). He was featured in Totems to Turquoise (2005), Challenging Traditions (2009), and Continuum: Vision and Creativity on the Northwest Coast (2009). He earned the 2010 Aboriginal Traditional Visual Art Award and Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. His trademark artistic works are Coastal Tsimshian style with gold jewellery, limited edition prints, masks, silver jewellery, and wood carvings. Moraes discusses: a Tsimshian community; the earliest recorded history of the Tsimshian people; current population; the missionaries; the government; the four clans; language translation; colouring; the civilization; trade; natural disasters; European imposed theologies; and Creator.

Keywords: colouring, Corey Moraes, Creator, culture, Europeans, language, missionaries, Raven, trade, Tsimshian.

The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2)

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Before, we talked about some of the work that you do and leaving off with some commentary as a family and a child. Today, it will be on community and some of the contextualizations with a larger sense of self in tribes.

What is the context within a Tsimshian community of a sense of self?

Corey Moraes: How do we know who we are in terms of Tsimshian community historically? Everything was matrilineal. None of the major decisions were made without the input, inclusion, of the female leaders. But female leaders were never the chief; the chief was the final say.

Our social structure was very communal. You could have a dozen or more families in what our people call a Long House or a Big House separated by partitions with many generations all living together. But there were the common people and the people who had more inherent value because of their lineage.

It led right into the chieftainship and how that structure works. For example, a chief’s name has to go down. It doesn’t go to the chief’s son. It goes to his oldest sister’s son. If there is no nephew, then it goes to the next sister’s son, like that.

There were arranged marriages. Some of this, because of the clan system; our people had four clan names: Eagle, Raven, Killer Whale, and Frog. As I look back historically, I believe, this is my opinion, that those structures were set up to have an equal balance of hunting and fishing rights.

One family might have an advantageous fishing grounds or hunting area. So, they would marry another family who might have something else that they need and then build their power up like that. There was a high-level animism.

The belief that things were possessed with spirit. So, we were no more valuable than the animals, trees, rocks. We all belonged to your Higher Power or your Great Spirit. All of that was based on a particular mythology as well.

Jacobsen: What is some of the earliest recorded history of the Tsimshian people?

Moraes: It was always the explorers, the Spanish, for example. Not documented, but evidence of, is the Nordic peoples, the Vikings, had made their way. But as far as recorded history, it comes down to the European explorers. I don’t have an exact date.

There’s more that comes out in the present day. It contradicts what they have as established facts and anthropological facts. I think the biggest flaw in our history – other than not having a written history – is the things that we have created, historically, were often, or almost exclusively, created in biodegradable materials.

Jacobsen: Can you expand on that?

Moraes: Well, our lineage, family histories, village histories, were on totem poles and our regalia before European explorers brought over wool blankets. They were portrayed on animal hides. A lot of our history is made to rot.

As far as the oral history, that was our law. We found, as we look back, more power in oral history than we did in the form of written history. Everything was passed on orally.

Jacobsen: The current population sits under 10,000. Were the numbers historically at similar levels or higher/lower?

Moraes: They were much higher. I don’t have exact numbers. But we lost tens of thousands up and down the coast to a type of plague that only, recently, have I read an article that based patient zero in Vancouver Island. It was by transferring infested blankets.

They knew that these blankets were infested with smallpox. They knew that our commerce relied on trade up and down the coast. So, they knew these blankets would cover a lot of ground very quickly. There’s a lot of documentation of the horrendous result of the smallpox plague on men and children.

Haida-Gwaii, for example, it decimated their population to just a few hundred before it was stopped. They had tens of thousands before that. That shows a stasis of how devastating European illness was on us.

We had no antibodies to fight off these viruses. They very quickly found out the weaknesses. They could exploit our social structures. A lot of that hinged on trade.

Jacobsen: Was this grounded in the missionaries?

Moraes: The missionaries played a large part in trying to abolish the Aboriginal from the ground up. We were forced to adopt new belief systems. We were forced to stop speaking our language when they realized that they couldn’t kill us with virus. They started introducing alcohol.

When that was working sufficiently enough, they looked at what is the core of a village. The core of any village was its children. Its children were its future. So, they decided to remove the heart of the communities and take all the children and put them in Residential Schools, forced them, beat them.

If they spoke any of their language, which was all that they knew, then they took them to far flung Residential Schools, which weren’t anywhere near where their village was. They refused to let their parents visit them.

There are documents of missionaries writing to various white settlers saying, ‘These poor Indians. They don’t care about their children. They’re going to be alone for Christmas. If you can spend a few days to take care of this child and do God’s work, it would be greatly appreciated.’

They paid them. They used our children to experiment on. One of them was starvation, to see how long they could starve before they died.

Jacobsen: How was the government complicit?

Moraes: The government interests have always been in the land. Even with the Magna Carta and the European construct of obtaining lands via conquests or cession, in the United States, the lands, obviously, were acquired via conquests. They murdered every man, woman, child, and senior, until they gave up.

In Canada, they went the way of cession paperwork. Where, they would tell them, “Look, the Settlers are non-stop. They are going to keep coming. It is in your best interest to hand over your land to us to care of. In return, we will take care of you, take care of your lands,” which diminished more and more as resources were found, explored, and exploited in reservations getting smaller and smaller.

So, they wanted the land. What was standing in the way of them were the first inhabitants of North America, to this day, there is a trust, which contains monies for Aboriginal peoples. Any of the monies being distributed today are only being taken from the interest of the original money started.

So, when you hear people say, “These are unceded territories.” They are referring to the government never signing any agreement that say the original peoples give this land to them. The Canadian government is described as caring for the Aboriginal peoples in exchange for the use of the land.

Jacobsen: Regarding the four clans of Eagle (Laxsgiik), Killer Whale (Gispwudwada), Raven (Ganhada), and Wolf (Laxgibuu), what is the clan for you?

Moraes: I am Raven.

Jacobsen: What is the contextualization with that particular clan in specialization?

Moraes: As I said, each clan had certain hunting and fishing rights. I need to close my thought loop there. My wife and I are both Raven Clan. Historically, we were never allowed to marry the same clan. You had to marry another clan.

That’s why I say, ‘Looking back historically, I am a believer. This wasn’t to prevent incest.’ Because there was incest within royal families in Europe to protect the bloodline, to purify it, much as how you get a pure bred dog.

It was done in Aboriginal cultures. I think, at its core, the clans were set up to equally distribute the hunting and the fishing rights. So, if the Raven clans had very strong hunting territories, but were weak in some fishing areas, they would find another clan – Eagle, Wolf, Killer Whale – that would fulfill that requirement.

They would arrange the marriages. It was an equal distribution of power. So, it wasn’t so much that Raven had certain responsibilities and Eagle had different responsibilities. I think it broke down to distribution of wealth. I don’t know what the modern term would be for that.

Jacobsen: For the language translation, why is it real or true tongue?

Moraes: There are a lot of words in the English language, which we don’t have in our traditional Sm’álgyax language. And the other way as well. There are words in our language that require a phrase in English to be the nearest interpretation of what that word means. For example, our village is called Lax Kw’Alaams. Lax Kw’Alaams means “the people of wild roses.” There are wild roses growing on our island. “Lax” means “the people” much like “Volks-” in “Volkswagen” as in “people wagon.” Right?

So, some of our things are literal. Other ones aren’t. What is even worse, much like the English language, one word can be spelled many different ways for the same thing and many words can have many different meanings depending on the context in which it is spoken.

That’s why translating our language into a narrative in a book can be most challenging because transcribing it word-for-word into English loses much of the meaning.

Jacobsen: In terms of art and colouring, most nations of people, whether modern or not, have particular colourings associated with their own culture. What is the colouring associated with the Tsimshian?

Moraes: Predominantly red and black.

Jacobsen: Why?

Moraes: We got black from charcoal. We got red from ocher. They were viewed as life and death. Additional pigments that we brought in; I don’t know much about the meaning of the additional pigments. Some of it had to do with region.

For example, a copper oxide colour could only be obtained from a small area in the Chilcotin River. Some of those pigments could only reach the Tsimshian by a certain timeline. They sometimes added it because it deepened out colour palette.

Also, when Europeans arrived, they brought things like Chinese red, for example, which was a different shade, and vermilion. These things, when you look back at the historical pieces, speak of the inclusion of trade with Europeans.

Jacobsen: Is there any indication as to how old the civilization is?

Moraes: It goes back. Anthropologists think it may go back more than 10,000 years. Some evidence crops up, even in the present day, that it goes back 40,000, or 60,000, years. A segment of my population and I believe that we very well may have come across a land bridge. I would say the majority of our people.

Because they have so much stripped of them and their identity. They refuse to believe that we just sprung up out of the ground here. That there’s so much similarity between our people and plains people and Asian cultures.

Jacobsen: How was trade in association with art productions with surrounding nations?

Moraes: It was our gross domestic product: our art. Our people were very static in Northern coast. We worked very hard in the Spring and the Summer, and used Fall to prepare the reserve of the things that we worked so hard to preserve, e.g., using air-drying process, pickling, and smoking, to increase the cabinet life of the things that we harvested.

But during the Winter months, all of our fishers and all of our hunters had a lot of time of their hands. Being in such close contact with wildlife, that became the natural platform for transcribing our stories into artworks.

These artworks were commissioned by our high chiefs and, sometimes, by high chiefs of neighbouring villages, which is why, sometimes, there’s art anthropologically. There are totem poles, for example. There could be a totem pole in Bella Bella.

A lot of people say, “That’s a Tsimshian totem pole.” Others will say, “That’s not a Tsimshian totem pole. It’s in Bella Bella.” A Tsimshian carver could have been commissioned to make a totem pole that was for Bella Bella.

Jacobsen: Did any natural disasters impact the culture?

Moraes: Natural disasters, absolutely, there’s always talk of a great flood that killed a large portion of our population pre-contact. Historically, there’s a legend that that something had a terminology placed on it in the ‘60s by a white scholar named Bill Holmes.

He had such a keen interest in Northwest Coast history. He was cataloguing and studying all of these anthropological pieces. He had to put a word to the form. He had to come up with a collective term for all of the languages. He coined the term “Formline.”

It is a non-Native term. Additionally, our people didn’t even have a word for “art,” which is what all of our pieces are viewed as and categorized as; they’re seen as “works of art.” But to us, they were a dialogue. They weren’t something to be hung on a wall and admired.

They had their own spirit. They portrayed stories and legends. Some of them so powerful that they were only brought out on special occasions. They knew when they transmitted their power in the performance. Then they were put in a box and never shown until the next performance when they were required.

Jacobsen: How have European imposed theologies mixed for some members of the community with traditional beliefs? Some of the animism, for instance.

Moraes: Very much in the Tsimshian community, which is why the majority of our grand works were destroyed, they were burned. The theologians believed that we worshipped totem poles. The reason that they believed that; they found them to be idols, pagan idols.

You know the history of organized religion and paganism. One example would be a totem pole with wings. If a silhouette, what does it resemble?

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Moraes: In traditional Christianity, as you know, they have a belief in angels. In our spiritual belief system, Tsimshian, in particular, we had more of an angel, Nax’nox. That was a spiritual being that transmitted certain messages.

So, those two things formed the basis for a very basic understanding of why the Tsimshian took so enthusiastically to Christianity, as we were a progressive people. Tribes, one to another, would want to be labelled more progressive than their neighbour. “Progressive” meant “power.”

They willingly gave up their culture because they thought, if they jumped on the Christianity bandwagon, they’d be more progressive than their neighbours.

Jacobsen: What makes Creator, in the traditional belief structure, similar and different to the Christian God?

Moraes: The Christian God was a very vengeful person. Whereas, our Bringer of Light, which was Raven, was a multi-flawed Creator. To understand what I mean when I say that, he always wanted to do something progressive. But, oftentimes, the method in which he did that hurt him more than it hurt anybody else.

An example of that would be Raven with a broken beak. A very quick story of that is Raven is trying to steal a halibut fisherman’s catch. In his greed, he pulls on the fish so much so that the halibut hook catches his beak.

In his greed, as he is pulling up to try to get away with the catch, he breaks his beak. His great beak is hanging down off of his chin. That’s one example. What would you call that?

Jacobsen: Damage from a well-intentioned flawed plan.

Moraes: Yes, there you go. Also, Raven brings light to the world. Have you heard that story?

Jacobsen: I don’t recall this.

Moraes: It varies from tribe to tribe. The gist of it: Raven knows the Chief of the Sky has greedily retained the Sun and Moon, and the stars, in a great wooden chest in his longhouse. The world is in darkness.

So, Raven devises a plan in which he is going to get to that box. Depending on that village or tribe that you are talking to, I’ll give you one example. He notices that the Chief of the Sky has a very beautiful daughter.

He has attested that he is not going to release any of these Sun, Moon, or stars. He loves his daughter deeply. So, Raven transforms himself into a pine needle. One day, the Chief of the Sky’s daughter goes down to the river and collects water.

Raven has a needle and gets taken up with the water. She drinks the water and becomes pregnant and has this child and seems like the Virgin Mary, right? She births this little boy, who is the grandson of the Chief of the Sky.

At one point in the young man’s life, he becomes inconsolable. The Chief tries anything that he can to console his grandson. The boy, he keeps wanting the Chief to open up the box. He cries enough so the Chief relents.

He opens the box and lets the child play with the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. He tells him, “I’ve got to put them back when you’re done.” One day when the Chief wasn’t paying close attention; the young boy transforms into Raven, who was white feathered, Raven grabs the Sun and proceeds to fly through the smoke hole.

It is a large on in the ceiling of the longhouse, which always a fire pit in the center. As he is flying up through the smoke hole to the release the Sun, he gets covered in soot and gets covered in black.






American Medical Association (AMA 11th Edition): Jacobsen S. The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2). December 2022; 11(1).

American Psychological Association (APA 7th Edition): Jacobsen, S. (2022, December 15). The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2). In-Sight Publishing. 11(1).

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. D. The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, Fort Langley, v. 11, n. 1, 2022.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2022. “The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 1 (Winter).

Chicago/Turabian, Notes & Bibliography (17th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 11, no. 1 (December 2022).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. (2022) ‘The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, 11(1). <>.

Harvard (Australian): Jacobsen, S 2022, ‘The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, <>.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 9th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. “The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vo.11, no. 1, 2022,

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. The Tsimshian 2: Corey Moraes on Community and Mythologies (2) [Internet]. 2022 Nov; 11(1). Available from:


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