pacific northwest native symbols and meanings

eagle symbol

Pacific Northwest Native Symbols express Native Americans’ creative mastery and aesthetic appeal. Let’s explore with us interesting symbols and meanings of it

PowerPACPlus’s Summary

  • Native American symbols and crests play an important role in First Nations culture and history in North America.
  • Turtle Turtles are considered sacred by Native American cultures.
  • The term “formline” refers to two-dimensional Pacific Northwest art components.

Pacific Northwest Native American Symbols And Meanings

Native American symbols and crests play an important role in First Nations culture and history in North America. Each animal, spirit and supernatural being represents and symbolizes different stories, traits, personality and values.

The close relationships with animals, spirits, and supernatural beings are well represented in many First Nations cultures, through stories passed down through generations.

Below are well-known symbols and meanings used in Native American Art from the Pacific Northwest. Let’s take a look!


The native Orca represents family, longevity, romance, harmony, protection and community in Pacific Northwest American art.

Orca is also called the Lord of the Ocean or the protector of the ocean, with otters as assistants and whales as warriors.

orca symbols


The Native American Eagle decal often referred to as “The Master of the sky”, is a powerful symbol.

People considered this animal the most intimate connection with the Creator. It is God’s messenger.

The eagle communicates with the Creator by sending prayers and messages.

When an eagle appeared during prayer sessions, a prayer had been accepted by the Creator.

Each part of this animal has its own specific and vital symbolism. It represents concentration, strength, tranquility, leadership and supreme prestige.

eagle symbol


The native butterfly symbolizes transformation, metamorphosis, beauty, balance and grace. The butterfly is often depicted in Pacific Northwest Coast aboriginal mythology as the crow’s companion, scout, and mouthpiece. The butterfly often helps the crow by leading it to food sources and creatures that hide from the crow.

butterfly symbol


The symbol of the native bee above all symbolizes honesty and the desire to serve the community. In Northwest Coast cultures, masked bee dancers are often meant to be fun during dances. The dancer with the bee mask was dancing and touching other dancers and people with their beards or sharp stingers. Individuals stung by bees during their dance were often compensated for the stings, by receiving special small gifts given at potlatches.

bee mask


Turtles are considered sacred by Native American cultures.

In art, the turtle symbol signifies healing, spirituality, knowledge, health, safety, protection, longevity and fertility for these tribes.

Many Native Americans believed that these animals helped build Mother Earth by diving into the primeval waters to obtain mud.

turtle symbol

Artistic elements are expressed through Native American symbols

First, let’s discover some essential elements of this art in color, shapes and designs. Let’s scroll down!


For thousands of years, Pacific Northwest Native American art has used four colors: black, red, green, and blue.

The color palette combines rituals, cosmologies and indigenous peoples of the daily life of the northwest coast.

The term “formline” refers to two-dimensional Pacific Northwest art components. It is the outline of the subject’s body, mainly black.

Although native painters use commercial colors today, the black pigment was once made from charcoal, lignite or graphite.

However, many Native American painters in the Pacific Northwest use additional colors to complete their work.

Blue-green is a tertiary shade that can vary in tone from pure blue to pure green and is often considered a filler.

Other wood sculptures do not use pigments, giving them a stained, raw wood appearance.

In the past, the artists often used black to paint on the wood before carving. Then they would apply red and then any tertiary shades.


Northwestern Native artists used a variety of forms in their artwork. The standard forms include the ovoid, u-shaped, and s-shaped forms.

Ovoid shape

Of these shapes, the egg shape is the most common.

It resembles a round rectangle with internal tension pressing on the top to produce a curved surface, like a slice of bread.

The bottom of the lower part is occasionally concave. The size and dimensions of these shapes vary depending on the subject or species they represent.

Artists can use larger egg shapes to create a subject’s head, head joints, eyes, wings, fins, or tails. On the other hand, they can use smaller egg shapes to create joints, ears, noses, eyes or enclose faces.

U shape

The U shape looks like a thick letter U with sharp ends at the ends. The dimensions may vary, but they always share the same U-shape.

Larger U-shapes are used to shape the subject’s body and provide a shape line for ears or tails.

On the other hand, smaller ones can act as space fillers or bird feathers. To simulate fins or tails, artists can superimpose many U shapes.

S shape

With tapered end points, the S shape resembles the letter S. Artists can use this shape as body parts such as arms or legs or space fillers.

The artists also used S-shapes to connect the different body parts of a subject.


Usually, artists use a molding line to outline an animal’s entire body, but that’s not always the case.

To illustrate the creature in a clear profile, they can depict the wing, tail, foot, or head.


The artworks of this region show the stories of these tribes, animals, mythical spirits, family coats of arms or totem pole replicas. Native American artists used many animal symbols to represent different meanings related to their cultures and traditions.

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In the world of symbols, the salmon is seen as a unit of the Pacific Northwest.

The Eagle is accorded the highest respect by all First Nations. The Eagle is considered the messenger of the Creator, therefore its feathers are held in high regard. Thus, the eagle feather is the link between the People and the Creator. Eagle feathers are gathered in ritual.

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