Above: Raven Cedar Hat by Calvin Hunt and Ali Hunt
Symbol: The Raven
This mischievous and curious figure plays many significant roles in Northwest Coast culture.
For some he symbolizes creation, transformation, knowledge, and prestige. For others he symbolizes the unknown, the complexity of nature and the subtlety of truth. He is often considered a helper to the creator and “keeper of secrets”, being called upon to clarify and expose the truth, or conceal secrets that could harm us.
The raven is only ever feared if misused.
Raven Steals the Light argillite pendant by Darrell White
Many stories are told about the raven. One such story is how the Raven brought light to the World. This story tells of an old Chief that had the light hidden in a bentwood box in his house. In a ploy to steal the light, Raven transforms himself into a hemlock needle in a basket of drinking water. The Chiefs daughter drinks from the basket and swallows the needle. Soon Raven is reborn from her as a child. The old man accepts Raven as his grandson. One day the child transforms back into Raven and grabs the box holding the light. He flies out of the house through the smoke hole, as he is flying the light pours out of the box and becomes the sun, the moon and the stars. Originally Raven had white feathers, but after flying through the smoke hole with the light his feathers turned black and stay black until today.
This is one story showing why the Raven is also called “The Trickster”
Urban Legend limited edition print by April White
Here is another story of Raven as shared by Haida artist April White:
"White Raven is a supernatural being with powers to transpose and transform and a genius for trickery. Chance puts Raven at the entrance to his Grandfather's house. He is asked to fetch a box within a box which has two pebbles; one white and encrusted with crystals and the other black. These, the Chief instructed with their giving, were to create land. On the first try, Raven failed by doing things backwards. The second time he created the mainland out of the white pebble and Haida Gwaii out of the black pebble.
With the extreme confidence that comes with being a principal player in the ordering of the universe, White Raven travels through time to be present and swaggers down the dangerous divide, again with an eye to opportunity. Walking down the transition between two worlds he could stumble upon a stepping stone to open the cosmos for the rest of us."
Raven Butterfly and the First Haida by Ron Russ
And here we have a creation story as shared by Haida carver Ron Russ:
In the beginning there was Raven and Butterfly.
They played amongst the stars. They played tag and hide and seek. They played until they got tired of the games. They looked for something else to play with.
They found the Earth.
They went to Rose Spit which is on the northernmost tip of Haida Gwaii. They walked in the sand.
Soon they noticed something squirt water into the sky. They went to investigate and found a clam. They started to play with the clam. Soon they saw a movement in the clam. They saw human forms in the clam. The humans closed the clam to hide from Raven and Butterfly. No matter how hard they tried to open the clam it wouldn’t open.
Raven talked quietly to the humans. Soon the humans opened the clam to see what was talking to them. They got braver and came out of the clam.
Soon butterfly got tired of the humans and flew away.
The humans started to climb all over Raven. Soon Raven got tired of the humans climbing on him. Raven flew away.
There were still some humans on Raven. They started to tickle Raven. Soon Raven shook and some fell off.
Where the Humans landed they started to make villages.
That is how Haida Gwaii was given to the Haida people."
These are just a few of many such stories about the importance of the Raven in Northwest Coast culture and art.
Click here to view more depictions of The Raven.