The Hummingbird | Indigenous Symbolism 

Hummingbird has varying meanings across the pacific northwest. Each tribe, clan, and family can have a distinct and unique association with Hummingbird. Many of these symbols can represent the stories, traits, and values that hold a special significance to Indigenous Peoples. In retail jewellery, these symbols still hold significance but aren’t held to the same cultural standard. Regardless, we believe learning more about the beauty and depth of the Hummingbird legends brings more pleasure to the wearer. 

Also referred to as Sah Sen, Hummingbird is a messenger of joy. It symbolizes intellect, beauty, devotion, and love. This little bird is known for being both fierce and playful. 

Depictions of Hummingbird in Indigenous Art

For many in the Pacific Northwest, seeing a hummingbird signals the start of spring. The most common Hummingbird in the Pacific Northwest is the Rufous Hummingbird. This mighty bird has one of the longest winter migrations, traveling almost 5,000 km from Mexico to its breeding grounds in the Pacific Northwest rainforests.    

Sterling silver hummingbird teardrop earrings made by Tahltan Indigenous jewellery artist.

Hummingbird is often depicted with a round head and a long, sharp point for its beak. Many Indigenous depictions of Hummingbird also include dogwood flowers. According to one legend, the reason why Hummingbird bounces from flower to flower is to remind the flowers they make the world a better place to live. 

The Hummingbird Symbolism

Hummingbirds are signs of good luck. Seeing a Hummingbird before hunting, traveling, or another major event was a good sign. Hummingbirds are territorial birds and aren’t afraid to defend their territory. Their grace, swiftness, and playful nature signify friendship and good luck. 

Hummingbird pendant with 14k gold-fill bird and dogwood flower details. Made by Coast Salish and Cree jewelry artist Harold Alfred.

Their quickness and endless energy make many feel Hummingbird can act as a guide during challenges. Hummingbirds are adaptable and move with ease through sudden changes. This kind of flexibility teaches us to be adaptable during unexpected challenges and times of hardship. If you can still stay joyful like the hummingbird, you are bound to come out the other side victorious. 

If the Hummingbird is your family crest or personal totem, you’re likely a sensitive person who can pick up on subtle differences in people and your surroundings. However, you’re also someone who can overcome times of hardship with ease. You’re adaptable, resilient, and fiercely take all challenges head-on. 

The hummingbird is known as the joyful messenger of spirits. If a Hummingbird appears during a time of great sorrow and pain, healing will soon follow. Hummingbird also symbolizes intelligence and the fragility of all living things. To receive Hummingbird art as a gift says you are wished joy, healing, and love, and bring joy to the giver’s life.

The Hummingbird in Northwest Coast Cultures

According to one story, Raven transformed a flower into the first Hummingbird. The newly born Hummingbird was sent to bring a message to all the other flowers thanking them for their beauty. Legend says this is why Hummingbird darts quickly from flower to flower. This story teaches us that just like flowers, every person has a unique gift to give to the world.   

In other stories, high-ranking Haida women were said to arrive to gatherings with live hummingbirds tied to their hair. The Hummingbirds signified the woman’s beauty, rank, and close relationship with the notorious bird. 

One Kwakwaka'wakw legend recounts Dzunuk'wa, the Wild Woman of the Woods, loving Hummingbirds so much she would allow them to nest in her unruly hair. The Hummingbirds were so beautiful, they looked like jewellery pinned in the Wild Woman’s hair.

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