World Wildlife Day and The Orca

World Wildlife Day and The Orca

World Wildlife Day and The Orca

Orcas have left the entire world with a sense of awe and wonder. Cultural references from Shamu to Free Willy made the world pay attention to these majestic creatures. To Indigenous Peoples of the Northwest Coast, Orca is known as the ruler of the underworld and is seen as a vital part of the ecosystem. 

The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration.” This year, for World Wildlife Day, we’d like to take time to explore the symbolism behind Orca and its close relationship with Indigenous Peoples. 

See our Orca Collection here.

Orca Symbolism 

The Killer Whale is a very important and common family crest across Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures. Often recognized as clan ancestors, Killer Whale is believed to be reincarnations of chiefs. It’s said that when a chief dies, the whale comes to shore to take the chief’s spirit and help guide them. 

Orca pod cuff made with sterling silver hand crafted by Don Lancaster

Orca pod cuff made with sterling silver hand crafted by Don Lancaster. The Killer Whale is popular symbol throughout many cultures.

Heavily associated with strength, dignity, prosperity, and longevity, the Killer Whale is considered the ruler of the underworld. Although there are plenty of stories of Orca helping humans to safety during a storm, the ferocious Orca also has also been known to capsize canoes.  

Oftentimes, Indigenous stories heavily align Orca to humans and may even be depict Orca as human-like. In these stories, Orcas live in undersea villages and take off their black and white skins to live like giant underwater humans. Similarly, real Orcas have distinct, genetically different populations with varying cultures, social structures, communication, diets, hunting strategies, and physical traits.

The Conservation of Killer Whales

In 2019, former councillor Charlene Aleck aligned Orcas with the experience of Indigenous Peoples, saying "Indigenous rights and the orca have the same path…[Orca] lineage and our lineage run parallel. There is a loss of culture and language through our lineage through residential schools and I think the same for orca" (CBC, 2019.)

In 2019, Indigenous Peoples across BC fought against the environmental impact put on by ships and the Trans Mountain expansion. Many of these modern-day factors impact a pod’s ability to communicate and hunt. Many elder Orcas hold memories of old hunting grounds and are supposed to lead younger generations to these spots. However, many researchers have seen a dramatic decrease in the local Killer Whale population and have reported higher cases of malnourishment.         

Nothing speaks to this phenomenon more than Tahlequah (J35) carrying her stillborn calf for 17 days. Tahlequah breached the Salish Sea’s surface and carried the lifeless calf for all the world to see. This wasn’t the first loss for Tahlequah, a few years prior, she lost her sister and had to care for her two calves. Unfortunately, one calf died due to malnutrition. Tahlequah’s moving display of grief and loss garnered the attention of many across the Pacific Northwest. 

To help with Orca conservation in the Pacific Northwest, you can donate to here.


Artina’s Jewellery can be found on the traditional territory of the Songhees, Esquimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day. We acknowledge and respect the lək̓ʷəŋən Peoples on whose land we currently reside.

Artina’s Jewellery recognizes that colonization, policies, and institutions have significantly changed Indigenous Peoples’ relationships with galleries. For many years, colonial ideologies upheld by museums were used to exclude Indigenous artists, their work, and their voices.

Today we acknowledge that in order to break the colonial lens that’s restricted Indigenous artists throughout history, we must represent Indigenous art mindfully. Artina’s wishes to act as a gallery featuring various artists from all across Canada. Our mission is to share, respect, and better appreciate Indigenous art.  

We promise to respect and uphold our relationship with Indigenous artists by continually supporting their art and challenging colonial biases. 

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