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.
Octopus is often regarded for its transformational capabilities and is a frequent depiction in shamanic art. Octopus is a crest in the Tsimshian Eagle Clan, symbolic of wealth in Kwakwaka’wakw oral traditions, and features in Haida oral traditions. To many, Octopus is regarded as a powerful and intelligent creature, known for its adaptability, flexibility, and metamorphic abilities. Octopus is also often associated with characteristics such as dexterity, complexity, and resourcefulness. Octopus is recognized by long tentacles with suckers, a large round head, and sometimes possessing large eyes or a small beaked mouth.