The Raven | Indigenous Symbolism 


Raven has varying meanings across the Pacific Northwest. Each tribe, clan, and family can have distinct and unique associations with Raven. Generally, the Raven symbolizes creativity, mischief, and magic throughout most Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures. 

All Indigenous symbols and crests have significant cultural and historical associations. 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 these legends' beauty and depth brings the wearer more pleasure. 

The Raven legend is particularly emblematic of duality. In Pacific Northwest legends, Raven is both creative, intelligent, and adventurous, but can also be extremely self-serving and mischievous. 

Depictions of The Raven In Indigenous Art

Raven is recognized by a strong, tapered beak. Unlike Eagle, whose beak is curved inward, Raven’s beak has an almost squared tip. Other features depicted in Raven's art may include his long wings. 

Also Read:  Eagle Symbolism | Indigenous Art and Jewellery

Raven is one of the most popular depictions in Canadian First Nations art and jewellery. Raven is also a highly important figure in many Northwest Coast legends, art, and jewellery. It often appears as both a crest figure and a personal totem. 

In many legends, Raven is a magical shapeshifting creature who can assume any form. He can be human or nonhuman, and can even be an inanimate object. In some legends, he can even change other beings. Raven is also credited as the creature who put the Sun into the sky. Many pieces of Indigenous art may depict these popular legends. 

Also Read:  The Sun Symbolism | Indigenous Art and Jewellery

The Raven Symbolism 

In nature, Ravens are frequently caught stealing food and moving objects in an almost mischievous manner. The Northwest Coast is one of the only places with white Ravens. These Ravens have a genetic occurrence and are believed to be good luck. 

Symbolically, Raven has many complex and almost contradicting meanings across the Northwest Coast. Ultimately, Raven allows us to understand the complexity of truth. Raven is often thought of as the “keeper of secrets” by exposing the truths that could potentially harm us. In the same regard, many believe that symbolizes the unknown and shows that every person carries a different perspective.  

Many believe Raven is the helper of the creator. It’s believed that Raven brings messages from the creator only to those deserving of this higher knowledge.  

The Raven In Northwest Coast Cultures

There are many stories and legends, particularly among the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian. To these groups, Raven is the original organizer, trickster, transformer, teacher, catalyst, and chief spirit. He is particularly mischievous and loves to play tricks. Many legends claim Raven is responsible for unleashing the Sun, Moon, and Stars into the sky. Some legends even claimed he stole the Sun from a man by trapping it in a box. Those among Kwakwaka'wakw attribute Raven to discovering fire. 

Also Read:  The Moon Symbolism | Indigenous Art & Jewellery

Haida refers to him as Nankilslas or Nanagkilstlas which roughly translates to “he whose voice is true” or “one who gives orders.” Other Haida stories claim Raven discovered the first man and woman in calm shells. In this story, he freed them both and put salmon into the coastal rivers to provide food.  

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