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.
Eagle is an especially prominent figure in artwork on the Northwest Coast. There is a large population of eagles along the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Eagle is one of two crests among the Haida and Tlingit, and one of the main crests among the Tsimshian and Heiltsuk. It is typically respected for extraordinary vision, in both the literal and figurative senses.
Eagle is considered one of the most sacred figures as it has been said to carry the prayers of the people to the Creator and Eagles are frequently referenced in ceremonial contexts. Eagle feathers and down are customarily used in a variety of different ceremonies such as honouring a respected guest. In Northwest Coast artwork, Eagle is often depicted with a hooked beak and small ears.
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.