THE SUN SYMBOLIZES: ENERGY, LIFE, CREATIVE POWER
The Sun has varying meanings to Pacific Northwest Indigenous Peoples. Each tribe, clan, and family can have a distinct and unique association with Sun. Generally, throughout almost all cultures, the Sun symbolizes energy, warmth, and light.
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 the beauty and depth of these legends brings more pleasure to the wearer.
DEPICTIONS OF THE SUN
Sun is often depicted as a round face with symmetrical rays. Sometimes an artist may choose to depict the Sun’s rays as hands which can symbolize the Sun’s kindness. The Sun’s rays are also considered the connecting road between the earth and Sky World. Sun’s face can either be depicted as a human with a long or hooked nose, or as an animal such as an eagle, hawk, or raven.
Pictured: Art Sterritt (Gitxsan) holding Sun mask made for 'Ksan Dancers
Photo courtesy of Ulli Stelzer (see source materials)
In other instances, Sun is depicted as an old man. This depiction often has associations with Sun’s benevolence. And although he’s depicted as elderly, he still holds immense power.
Sun jewellery and carvings can be made from a number of materials, but are often associated with copper and abalone shell. Copper was considered a rare and highly-valued material to Northwest Indigenous Peoples. Wearing copper was considered a symbol of wealth, power, status, and prestige.
THE SUN SYMBOLISM
In many stories, Sun was put into the sky by Raven, the creator. One Haida story describes Raven stealing Sun from an old man who kept Sun hidden in a box. Raven granted humans the gift of life and warmth by releasing the Sun into the Sky World. Sun has since provided humans with healing energy, beauty, and abundance.
Among the Squamish Peoples, the Sun is a metaphor for wisdom and enlightenment. Oftentimes, Sun is associated with masculine energy, but in rare cases, Sun can also allude to feminine energy.
In contrast to the depiction of Sun as an elderly man, Young Sun is stubborn and impulsive. Many stories of Young Sun describe him as being so hot that he scorched the entire earth!
THE SUN’S SIGNIFICANCE AMONG NORTHWEST CULTURES
As mentioned, in Haida People’s stories, Raven gifted humans with Sun by releasing him from his captive box. However, throughout other Northwest Indigenous tribes, Sun can have a number of different associations.
Among the Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples, Sun is female. This is one of the rare instances where Sun is associated with more feminine energy. In fact, Sun and Moon are married and represent the highest powers offering good luck and plentiful food.
Nuxalk Peoples often call the master of Sky World Sun. In the beginning, there were four Master Carpenters of various species on four separate mountains that make up the Nuxalk clans, or subgroups.
A Crest is an image representing a family’s lineage. Crests are highly valuable and are protected with the utmost care, similar to a family heirloom. Crests can be depicted as humans, animals, objects, supernatural beings, or a combination of various figures. Although Sun is not a common crest among Northwest Indigenous Peoples, there are a few Kwakwaka’wakw families that use this symbol, such as Travis Henry’s family. In some instances among Kwakwaka’wakw Peoples, Sun can represent an ancestral figure appearing from the sky world in a cloak lined with an abalone shell.
Sun can have varying meanings among Aboriginal Peoples, tribes, clans, and even families. All associations and meanings have a special significance.