The Raven Symbol – Native Art Symbols And Meanings

Raven is one of the most important creatures in Northwest Coast mythology and art. He is a powerful, cultural focus and symbol in many communities and to First Nation peoples along the Northwest coast of North America; both as a crest figure, and as a guardian spirit.

Raven is cunning and a schemer. He is mischievous and curious, selfish, and a glutton. Always looking for an angle, Raven is known as a trickster. As such, he will deceive anyone to advance his own self interests.

Raven is a magical creature that can easily assume any shape. He can be human, an animal, or any inanimate object.

There are many stories told of Raven explaining how things came to be, or as lessons about right and wrong. The Haida tell stories of how Raven discovered and freed the first men who had been trapped in a clam shell. He then freed the first women from another shell and put the men and the women together. Raven also stole salmon and deposited them in the rivers all along the coast to provide food for the people. Another story explains that Raven played a significant role in transforming the world by first stealing, then placing the sun, the moon, and the stars in the sky.

In First Nations mythology of the Northwest Coast, Raven has two sides. On one hand he is creative, intelligent and adventurous. On the other hand he can be extremely self serving and mischievous.

Raven is depicted in many Northwest Coast Native art prints: White Raven, Sharing Knowledge, Five Ravens, Haida Raven, and more.

The Orca Symbol – Native Art Symbols And Meanings

In First Nations cultures of the Pacific Northwest, Orca is represented frequently in visual works, as well as oral traditions. Known to some as the Guardians of the Sea, Orcas (Killer Whales) are associated with compassion, strong family bonds, protection, and community.

Orcas, who are also called Sea Wolves in some Northwest coast cultures, are revered for their hunting skills and sheer strength. Similar to wolves, Killer Whales live and hunt in packs. The entire family, or pod, will normally stay together for life and work together to feed and raise their young.

Along the Washington and British Columbia coastline there are four resident communities of Killer Whales. The Southern Resident Killer Whale Pod is the smallest of the four, and it is listed under the Endangered Species Act. As of the end of 2018, this pod numbered 75 members, which is down significantly from 250 a few decades ago. The reduction in their population size is due to increased marine traffic, environmental damage, and the depletion of their major food source, Chinook Salmon.

Coast Salish artist Joe Wilson has dedicated his serigraph, titled Orca, to the Southern Resident Killer Whale Pod. He feels that the print should serve to celebrate the beauty of this magnificent animal, raise awareness, and help ensure its survival.

There are many legends in the Northwest involving the Orca. One legend tells us that when a person drowns, Killer Whales will take the body to the deep ocean and transform it into one of their own. This is why we can sometimes observe Orcas swimming close to shore. They are transformed humans, yearning for their old life.

The Orca is the largest predator on earth. Hence, in First Nations art the Orca is often depicted as a powerful and intimidating being. This is indicative of the respect First Nations have for the Killer Whale.

The Frog Symbol – Native Art Symbols And Meanings

Frog is a very important symbol in Northwest coast Native art and culture. We can find him on totem poles, house posts, as well as many house hold items.

Frog is a supernatural being which inhabits the human, as well as the spirit world. He adapts easily to his environment and communicates between the two realms.

In the natural world, Frog can easily switch between water and land and is associated with springtime, renewal, and the changing of the seasons. When spring comes, and frogs start to croak loudly, it is the signal for tribes of the Northwest coast to end their winter ceremonies and prepare for the next hunting and fishing season.

Many Native customs all over North and South America recognize Frog as a healer. Some old European traditions also recognize his ability to heal, and many believe that his songs are magical and contain divine power. Frogs are seen as cleansers of bad spirits, and Shamans use frogs as Spirit Helpers.

In Northwest coast art, Frog is usually depicted with a wide mouth and protruding tongue – Wak’es, Northern Frog, Tree Frog. If Frog’s tongue touches another creature, this represents the sharing of knowledge and power – Sharing Knowledge.

On totem poles it occupies the bottom with its legs stretched out to symbolize stability. On Haida house posts, Frog is depicted to lend structural stability.

Frogs also represent wealth, abundance, ancient wisdom, rebirth, and good luck. As such, the Frog symbol plays an important part in Northwest coast cultures.