Indigenous artwork on the Pacific Northwest Coast often incorporates figures and animals that are related to crest symbols. Crests have been passed down through families and have varying meanings depending on the context and association with a nation, clan, or family. The figures depicted in contemporary Northwest Coast Indigenous artwork also have varying meanings but there are some common characteristics from a range of sources, including oral histories and artist descriptions.
Bear is one of the most prevalent figures in Northwest Coast art and oral tradition. Bear is often considered to be a close relation to humankind and a link between the human and non-human realms due to physical characteristics such as appearance and expression, as well as anthropomorphic behaviours like nurturing young and standing on hind legs. Associated with strength and fierceness, Bears have been depicted as guardians and protectors of human heroes. Bear is identified by a wide mouth with prominent teeth, a short round snout with large nostrils, and clawed feet.
Salmon was a fundamental food staple to many, if not all, nations in the Pacific Northwest. As sustenance and nourishment, Salmon is often viewed in connection to regeneration, health, and life. The salmon is regarded as a sacred and highly respected creature embodying resilience, abundance, and the cycle of life. One of the more symbolic associations of Salmon is its connection to the concept of abundance. The annual migration and return of the Salmon to their ancestral spawning grounds can symbolize the cyclical nature of life and the continuous renewal of resources. Salmon can be identified by small pectoral and dorsal fins, scales, and the presence of eggs or roe.