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.
In oral traditions across the Northwest Coast there are many human heroes and legends. These figures are depicted in many ways. Some figures might represent a chief or shaman, while others an ancestor. Ancestors are incredibly important in Northwest Coast culture; thus, you will often see human portraits in the artwork depicting an ancestor figure.