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Native Symbols

Bear Heron Pugwis (Merman)
Beaver Huk-Huk Raven
Beluga Whale Human Salmon
Bukwus Hummingbird Sea Lion
Dog Fish Inukshuk Seal
Dog Fish Woman Killer Whale (Orca) Shaman
Dzunuk’wa  (The Wild Woman of the Woods) KOMOKWA (King of the Undersea Realm) Sisiutl
Eagle Loon Sun
Frog Moon Thunderbird
Goose Mosquito Watchmen
Grouse Otter Wolf
Halibut Owl Wren Mask
Hawk Mask Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus)  
Sacred Items    
Argillite Cowichan Knit Tea Dolls
Baskets Eel- Grass Totem Poles
Beadwork Indian Hemp Tule (Bulrush)
Bentwood Box Ojibway Basketry Western Paper Birch
Button Blankets Rattle Western Red Cedar
Ceremonial / Chilkat Blanket Slough Sedge Western White Pine
Common Seagrass Soapstone Yellow Cedar
Copper Talking Sticks  
Specialty Topics    
Caring for your drum    
Techniques of Basketry    
The Legend of the Dreamcatcher    







Strength, Learned Humility, Motherhood and Teaching. Bear is the protector of the animal kingdom, awakening the power of the unconscious. As a symbol of great strength, authority and mobility it is an important family crest. Due to its power and human-like qualities, the bear was referred to by West Coast people as Elder Kinsmen. When killed, it was taken to the chief's house, sprinkled with eagle down (a symbol of welcome and friendship) and generally treated as a high ranking guest.







  Creative, Artistic and Determined. Also known as the carpenter of the animal kingdom, a builder of dreams. Beaver is an important crest and the subject of many legends. One legend tells of the origin of the beaver being a woman with brown hair. She dammed a small stream to make a pool for swimming. As she swam, her leather apron kept slapping the water. The pool became a lake and because of scolding words from her husband, she refused to leave it. She became covered with brown fur, her apron turned into a tail, and thus she became the first beaver. Beaver reminds us that we have to act on our dreams to make them a reality.






Beluga Whale


  A myth told by traditional people across the Arctic describes a totemic marriage between a woman and a beluga whale. A young maiden left her village one day searching for bird eggs, and returned with a whale skull which she wore like a hat. The spirit in the skull eventually pulled her out to sea where it turned into a beluga whale, named Keiko, who made the woman his wife. The woman''s brother was bound to preserve his family honor so he built a boat and sailed out to rescue her. Keiko became frightened when the boat stopped directly over his home. His wife had grown fond of him, and now she tried to calm Keiko. She swam to the cliffs to gather eggs and birds for a feast to serve their guest. The brother ate little, while beckoning Keiko to eat more than his share. Finally, the brother whispered to his sister, 'your husband has eaten too much. Sing to him now, that he may rest.' So she sang a lullaby, and Keiko slept. When the whale awoke, he saw his wife was gone. He followed the boat''s wake, and soon caught up to the pair on the village shore where many people arrived to stab Keiko to death.

The woman eventually gave birth to a tiny whale who was much beloved by everyone in the tribe. She kept him in a little cup. But he grew quickly and soon asked to be put into a pail. Finally he pleaded to be set free into the ocean, where he quickly grew to a full-sized whale. One night strangers arrived who killed the whale for food. In the Yakut Siberian version of the myth, the tribe responds to this murder by attacking the strangers.

This story is told to explain how warfare first came to the human beings. In a version from Hudson Bay, the strangers were the first European whalers.








  Bukwus, or wild man of the woods, is a significant supernatural spirit being of the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation and casts a haunting figure in their great annual winter dance.  Bukwus is linked with the underworld of the dead and with ghosts -- especially the spirits of the drowned who hover near him.  This mysterious and elusive wild man lurks near the edge of the dark forest where he lives, offering food to lost humans, luring them to become spirits in his shadowy underworld. 

Bukwus is generally conceived as short (about four feet tall), and green. He can be viewed as a guardian spirit, protecting the deep woods from intrusion and harm. Dancers will portray him creeping to a sand bank on a sunny morning to dig for cockles, which is his favourite food.  He is very shy and looks about to see if he is being watched, shading his face from the sun with his hands.  Suddenly he leaps forward, settles on one knee searching for cockles, and devours them quickly, occasionally uttering a high pitched whoop or shriek from a concealed whistle.







  Dogfish is an important crest and mythic being among the Haida of B.C.’s Queen Charlotte Islands.  It is a favourite subject of the world-renowned Haida artists Robert Davidson and Bill Reid.  The classical Haida representation of Dogfish may well be the most ingenious exercise in abstraction in the whole Haida bestiary.  Though at first it might seem impossible to relate the broad face and long forehead of the traditional Dogfish crest to the narrow-bodied, sleek little shark of the same name, every step in the design is logically and carefully thought out, and all of the important anatomical features of the fish are captured in the symbolic form.

The Dogfish is equipped with a dangerous pair of sharp bony spikes, protruding each just ahead of the Dogfish’s two dorsal fins. Not considered appealing as food, Dogfish were not a valued commodity.  In fact, Dogfish are a great nuisance to fishermen seeking Salmon, Halibut, and Cod: they have a voracious appetite for bait and sandpaper rough skin suited for severing fishing lines.  It is a testament to the Dogfish’s wild ominous grace and power that such a troublesome and worthless creature could become an honoured family crest.  Other sharks sometimes also appear in Northwest Coast art and legend.  The Nuu-chah-nulth peoples of Western Vancouver Island feared giant, malicious shark monsters that lived in deep holes under cliffs and liked to eat canoes.  Named "Dogfish Mothers", they were likely inspired by the great white sharks that sometimes hunt Sea Lions in B.C.’s waters.

The motif features a high domed head with a front facing personified face.  This "Dogfish-spirit" face is stylised with a down-turned mouth, often with sharp pointed teeth, gill slits on each side of the mouth, and vertical pupils.  On the domed "forehead" there are two circles representing nostrils and sometimes a further set of gills.  This naturalistic underside view of the fish’s long tapering head and nose makes a double headed design depicting both shark and spirit.  The body is finished with the double set of fins behind spines, and asymmetrical tail flukes.








Dogfish Woman


Dogfish Woman is another, very similar design in Haida and Northern crests and art.  She has most of the identifying characteristics of the dogfish crest itself, but also has a beak for her nose that curves into her mouth - a symbol of transformation powers.  She is also often shown with a disk shaped labret of the type high ranking Haida women wore inserted in their lower lip.  The story of Dogfish Woman tells that she was carried off by a Dogfish and became one of its kind, but able to transform back again to a human.  She became the ancestor of the families who now claim the Dogfish as their crest.








Dzunuk’wa (The Wild Woman of the Woods)


  Dzunuk'wa's most important role is the bringer of wealth and good fortune. The giantess Dzunuk'wa is a member of the large family of giants who live in the far away mountains and woods. Black in color, with bushy, unkempt hair and a pursed mouth through which she utters the cry, Hu! Hu! She is a terrifying and threatening creature. She carries a huge basket on her back in which she puts the disobedient children she steals, taking them to her home to eat them. However, the children often outwit her, as she is vain, stupid and clumsy. Another aspect of Dzunuk'wa  is the possessor of the “Water-of-Life”, a gift she would bestow on people fortunate enough to encounter and overcome her. In the Winter Ceremonies, Dzunuk'wa appears in two forms. As a dancer in the T'seka, she is a shaggy lumbering creature with half shut eyes. She is not awake enough to dance the normal four circuits around the fire, but staggers in the wrong direction and when escorted to her seat, she falls asleep. In her other role, she carries a basket of coppers that she gives to the Chief who is selling or giving them away. The most important right of the Dzunuk'wa, is when Kwakwaka’wakw Chief’s wear a special form of this creature. At the end of required potlatch obligations to complete a hereditary Chief’s role, the Chief will put on the family’s crest representing a male Dzunuk'wa mask called Gi’kaml. This mask characterized not by the foolish face with half closed eyes, but a strong and noble f


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