Identifying the Animals & Their Meanings on the Totems of the Pacific Northwest Indians at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC Canada

Later this week, my friends and I are making a journey to Vancouver BC Canada, and we have mapped out an extraordinary adventure for each hour of our journey. Everyone has a place or places that they want to see most, but I am especially eager to see the totems of the Pacific Northwest Indians that are currently housed at Stanley Park.  I love the way that the Native Americans both told and illustrated their stories through their totems.

Stanley Park is not where many of its totems originated. Rather, many of the pieces have been brought there from nearby areas, and they reflect the cultures of several different Native American groups. All of them, however, are from the Pacific Northwest, and each animal carved on the poles has essentially the same meaning, specific to the animal.

The Thunderbird, with its outstretched arms, is a powerful totem animal, and mythologically speaking, it is often pitted against the whale.

“The Pacific Northwest traditions speak of shaking and flooding from the sea by referring to a struggle between the Thunderbird and the Whale.

“The Thunderbird and Whale in the Native American stories are creatures of supernatural size and power. Although native myths vary between tribes, the acts and personalities of these supernatural beings in the stories generally describe the effects of earthquake and/or tsunami. Thunderbirds are usually said to bring storms and rain in the native stories. They create thunder by flapping their wings and shoot lightning bolts out of their eyes. To the Pacific Northwest Indian, the Thunderbird is the most powerful of all spirits. The thunderbird is a regular fixture on top of totem poles of native tribes in the Northwest.” See More Here

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The Raven, however, is considered as a trickster.

“In past centuries, First Nations people of the Pacific Northwest – Kwakiutl, Haida, Tlinglit, Coast Salish, Nuxalt. Tsimshian – raised up huge poles of red cedar, carved and painted in bright colors with red, black, green.

“On totem poles are carved animals and supernatural beings, which represent family crests and tell stories.

“Crests, e.g. Wolf, Eagle, Killer Whale, Beaver, Thunderbird, are the mythical ancestors of First Nation families and their clans. Other figures on the totem pole portray an origin story, myth or legend.

“One famous legend is the trickster Raven, who steals the sun from Sky Chief and brings the sun, moon and stars to humans.” See More Here

“Animals on the totem poles are not ordinary, they can transform into humans, are spiritual guardians with powers and skills.

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Woman Holding Frog

“Frog brings good luck and is treated with deep respect.

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Sea Bear

“Sea Bear is part bear, part killer whale.”

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Thunderbird on Chief Wa’kas Pole

“Thunderbird is especially powerful – he beats his wings to make thunder, lightning comes from his eyes, and snatches up big whales to eat.

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Mythical Bird Huxwhukw

“Supernatural beings can be good or harmful. Huxwhukw is a mythical bird of the Kwakiutl people – he cracks open people’s skulls with his long straight beak.

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Giantess Dzunukwa

“Dzunukwa, always painted black, is a lady giant who lives in the forest and eats crying children!

See More Here

Stanley Park lies along the coast, and I feel sure that everything that I see in this area will amaze me.

I love nature, and I suspect that the natural terrain around Vancouver will be much like that of Alaska, which I visited a few years ago. I loved Alaska, and I am sure that I’ll feel the same about Vancouver.  It excites me to have this opportunity to see the nature that inspired the Pacific Northwest Indians, along with their work that has stemmed from their affinity with their natural world.

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