Ways of Life

Tribes and Crests

Every Nisg̱a’a person belongs to a one of four tribes: Eagle, Wolf, Killer Whale, or Raven.

Within each of these tribes, there are many symbolic images or “crests” that recall the history and ancestral origins of the tribe. The crests are usually human figures, animals or supernatural creatures that appear in the tribe’s historical tales, but crests can also be non-living objects that were significant to the historical events.

Tribes are divided into Houses and Clans, and different Houses and Clans often have crests that belong exclusively to them. While some crests may be used by the entire tribe, others may only be used by particular Houses or Clans within that Tribe.

The crests may be used on totem poles, traditional house front paintings, blankets, or other architectural, monumental or ceremonial structures or objects that belong to that Tribe, Clan or House.

With totem poles, if you understand the meaning of the different crests, it is possible to “read” the pole and the history of that House. For example, one famous Nisg̱a’a pole from the ancient village of Git’iks is the Eagle-Halibut Pole of Laay̓. By understanding the meaning of each animal and figure on this pole, a member of the House of Laay̓ within the Eagle tribe can recount the story or “adaawaḵ” of the origins and history of this particular branch of the Eagle people.

If desired, special permission can also be given to a person outside the House to recount the story of the crests.