Eagles are one of the most important clan and crest animals in Native American mythology, art and culture. The eagle is one of the main crests among First Nations, such as Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit and Heiltsuk, who live along the Northwest coast of North America. This area also features the largest bald eagle population in Canada. Here they find large bodies of water ideal for fishing and large trees for nesting.
Eagles are a symbol of strength, authority and power. They rule the skies with grace and great intellect. In many cultures around the world, their wings are symbols of protection, but to Northwest coast peoples they are spiritual messengers who carry prayers to the Creator. They have the ability to fly higher than any other bird and benefit from their extraordinary vision.
Eagle feathers and down are sacred. They have healing powers, and are symbols of peace and friendship. During welcome dances and other ceremonial occasions, they are used to honour respected guests. In some cultures, the feathers are given as gifts to honour a person’s accomplishments and acts of courage.
In Northwest coast art, eagle designs are found on totem poles, ceremonial staffs, and other traditional items. They are represented with a powerful beak. The upper half of the beak typically ends in a downward turn. They have large talons and piercing eyes. Also typical for Northwest coast art are the U-form shapes on top of the eagle’s head. Eagles are often depicted with a salmon in their talons; one of their favourite foods.