Considered the elder kinsman that teaches the legends and dances, the Bear is a symbol of strength and is always respected and treated as a high-ranking guest.
The Beaver is a symbol of industriousness and is known for its building skills. It is identified by a scaly-surfaced tail and large incisor teeth.
The Butterfly is a symbol of transformation and regeneration. Because of its ability to change itself so thoroughly, it can be viewed as representing transition, grace, and hope. In Haida culture, Butterfly acts as Raven's companion and guide.
Dogfish represents independence and decisiveness. Also known as Shark, the Dogfish is a common crest amongst the Haida and often depicted with round eyes and a downturned mouth. They are solitary creatures that are often feared by those who must spend time on the open ocean.
The Eagle is a symbol of power, knowledge and prestige. The Eagle also represents friendship and peace to all.
Eulachon represents wealth and plenty. Also referred to Oolichan and Candlefish, this tiny fish from the smelt family once was plentiful in BC and is valued as both a fuel and a food source. Eulachon oil was and still is highly prized within many First Nations communities, and was an important trade item.
The Frog is the voice of the people and a symbol of innocence, stability and communication. It is also considered to be good luck.
The Hummingbird is the joyful messenger and a symbol of health. When a Hummingbird appears, healing will follow.
Among the Tlingit, Ts’msyen, Haida, and Kwakwaka’wakw there are stories warning seafarers of supernatural Land Otters. Like many beings on the Northwest Coast, the Land Otter People may not be classified as either inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of their behavior. In the art, the Land Otter and Otter Woman figures are often depicted with green skin, a visible tongue, upturned eyes, and long black hair.
Protector and guardian of the earth, Moon watches over us and can change the way we feel.
Octopus represents transformation. Commonly referred to as Devilfish, the Octopus is a secondary crest figure but is central to many myths along the Northwest Coast. The Octopus has close links to shamanism and transformation symbolism due to its ability to change colour and shape.
Otter represents playfulness and intense loyalty. They are the friendliest of all animals and are bright and inquisitive. Sea Otters are often seen swimming on the backs, pounding open a shell fish with a rock they have placed carefully on their stomach.
The transformer and the creator, Raven placed the sun and moon in the sky so the world would have light and also put the trees on land and fish in water. This magical creature opened the clamshell to release man. He is known for his knowledge.
Raven with Broken Beak
Raven with Broken Beak is a myth about caution and the dangers of impulsiveness. Although not obviously connected to the sea, the Raven with Broken Beak figure does have its origin in the ocean. This popular myth tells of Raven spotting a shiny fishing lure in the sea and diving down to bite it. The hook lodges itself in Raven’s beak, and the blind fisherman above – who cannot see Raven struggling underwater – believes he has caught a huge fish. He pulls hard on the line, tearing the top half of Raven’s beak clean from his face. With his beak removed, Raven’s human face appears. Raven flies out of the water and follows the fisherman back to camp. That night, after dark, Raven disguises himself as an elderly man with a large spruceroot hat and manages to steal back his beak.
The Salmon is the life source and the provider of food for all animals and humans. When salmon are seen in pairs, it symbolizes good luck.
Sea Bear, like Wasgo and Thunderbird, is a supernatural figure and is associated with hunting and fishing. The presence of and legends surrounding Sea Bear are often told to emphasize the daunting nature of the open sea. Sea Bear crests and depictions on personal objects may indicate hunting prowess. In terms of design elements, this creature often has the head of a bear with a body displaying marine features, such as fins and tail flukes.
Seals represent wealth and plenty. They have always been an important resource along the Northwest Coast, providing food, fuel, and clothing. Seal is often depicted with Salmon, a favourite food, and both creatures represent abundance.
Sisiutl represents duality. It is a double-headed sea serpent that can flip boats and deal death, or bestow power and protect communities. Often depicted horizontally with a humanoid head in the middle with two wolf-like heads on either end, this mythological figure often appears in the art of British Columbia’s southern First Nations cultures.
The Sun is the provider of healing energy, beauty and life. The Sun was put into the sky by Raven, and its rays are our means of travel between earth and sky.
This mythological creature is the most powerful of all the spirits. It lives in the mountains and has lightning sticks under its wings. It rolls the thunder, and when it blinks its eyes, lightning flashes.
Also known as Dzunukwa and Tsonoqua, the 'Wild Woman of the Woods' is an important character in the dancing societies of the Kwakwaka’wakw peoples. She is a giantess, characterized by her black color, bushy and unkempt hair, and pursed lips. Periodically she would wander from her home in the woods in search of small children to take home with her in her basket on her back. Those who did manage to escape often returned home with various riches that the Tsonokwa kept in her house.
Turtle represents the land and continuity. It is not a symbol found within Northwest Coast art and culture, but the Turtle is a central figure with Plains and Woodlands mythology, associated with creation.
Called Wasco or Wasgo, this giant sea wolf has the head and tail of wolf, with killer whale elements such as fins and a blowhole. Wasgo is known as a guide and protector of those on the ocean.
The Whale is a communicator and highly regarded guardian of the sea. Whales travel together and symbolize long life.
This positive symbol is very family oriented. Wolves mate for life and share all responsibilities. Wolves are known as the land equivalent of the whale.