The Salmon | Indigenous Symbolism 

Every tribe, clan, and family can have distinct and unique associations with the Salmon. Generally, Salmon symbolize regeneration and perseverance in First Nations cultures. 

All Indigenous symbols and crests have significant cultural and historical associations. Many of these symbols can represent the stories, traits, and values of particular 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 Pacific Northwest coast is an ideal environment and climate for Salmon. Many gather at Salmon spawning grounds every September to witness their mysterious and wonderous migration through the Juan de Fuca Straight. Salmon are a keystone species in the Pacific Northwest, meaning their existence is integral to the function of our overall environment. 

Depictions of Salmon In Indigenous Art

In the Pacific Northwest, there are five different Salmon species each honored and celebrated by the coastal peoples. Indigenous artists often depict Salmon in their art, frequently pairing Salmon with Bear or other popular legends. 

In Northwest Coast art, Salmon is easily recognized by the curved, beak-like shape of their mouth. Salmon is depicted with a fish body, short fins, downturned mouth, squared-off dorsal fin, and scales using a form-line shape. Males usually have a stronger “beak” while females are often depicted with small circles on their body, representing eggs.  

Salmon is usually associated with twins and is traditionally drawn in pairs. It is one of the most popular symbols in West Coast First Nations art and is viewed as a unifying symbol among the Coast Salish peoples.  

Salmon Symbolism

In First Nations culture, Salmon is a symbol of regeneration and perseverance. In order for Salmon to reproduce, they must sacrifice their own life to allow the next generation to prosper. Many creatures in the ecosystem including Bears, Eagles, and humans rely on Salmon for sustenance. Because of these things, Salmon symbolizes self-sacrifice and providing for the family.   

Salmon In Northwest Coast Cultures

During the Salmon’s triumphant return, the Northwest Coast peoples host ceremonies out of respect and celebration. Throughout history, the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest had an abundance of food nearby, allowing them to pursue the art that we still appreciate to this day. Today, Salmon shortages are a direct result of human carelessness and disrespect. Many Indigenous elders, community members, and activists advocate for environmental change. 

Some stories tell of Salmon living in deep-sea villages similar to Ocra. In these stories, Salmon are immortal humans dressed as fish. They selflessly offer themselves as food for the humans. The humans would then put the Salmon skeleton back into the water so its spirit could return to the Salmon people.    

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