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Native American Legends

Tribal Orca
On this page I would like to introduce you to some of the legends surrounding Orcas, one of which you will remember if you ever watched "Free Willy".

A Tlingit Legend


A Tlingit OrcaIn a time before there were any killer whales there lived a very able sea lion hunter and a highly skilled carver named Natsilane. He was from Kake and when he took as his wife the daughter of a chief on Duke Island, he decided to live among her people. He was accepted into her family and because he tried hard to prove himself, he soon had a place of honor as an accomplished hunter and spear carver.

His desire to please won him the admiration of the youngest of his brothers- in-law but the oldest ones misunderstood his intentions and became jealous and so began to plot against him. The men decided to get even with Natsilane on the day of the big seal hunt.

After much preparation, the day of the big hunt arrived and Natsilane along with his four new brothers paddled their canoe toward West Devil Rock, out in the open straits. The wind was blowing fiercely and the waves were high but Natsilane was determined that the hunt would be successful. When the canoe neared the rocks, he leaped toward shore and plunged his spear into the nearest sea lion before it could escape. Unfortunately, the point broke off and the lion slipped into the water. Worse yet, Natsilane saw that his brothers, over the fierce objections of the youngest, were paddling away- abandoning him on the deserted island with no food or weapons. Their betrayal stung him deeply and after a time, he pulled his cloak up over his head and fell asleep.

Natsilane awoke the next morning to the sound of his name. He saw a sea lion that looked like a man beckoning to him to go with him down beneath the waves into the Sea Lion's House. At the great house he met the chief of the sea lions who asked him if he could help his injured son. Natsilane saw that the young lion had his spear point embedded in his body and with some effort was able to remove it and the son was healed. The chief was very grateful and after granting Natsilane even greater skills, arranged for his safe return to the village.

Natsilane met with his wife and after telling her his story, he made her promise to keep his return a secret. He took with him his carving tools and went into the woods to carry out a plan of revenge on the older brothers-in- law who had betrayed him. Remembering the Sea-Lion Chief's promise, he asked him for help and began carving a large black fish, a killer whale of spruce the likes of which had never been seen before. After three tries and much improvement in his carving skills, he fashioned a whale of yellow cedar and when launched, came to life and swam out to sea.

He called the black fish to him and ordered it to find his brothers-in-law when they returned from their hunting, destroy them and their boat but spare the youngest boy. The black fish set out and found them late that afternoon. black fish capsized the boat breaking it in two and drowned the older three brothers by keeping them from shore. The youngest made it back safely along with his story of the great black fish and his brothers' treachery.

The villagers now came to wonder if Natsilane had carved the great black fish and given it life. Not long afterward, a strange black fish with teeth was seen near the shore and at times would leave a freshly killed seal or halibut there for the villagers. Natsilane had instructed it never again to harm humans but instead, to help them. As he continued to help the villagers, they realized that the "Killer Whale" was a gift from Natsilane and so they took it for their crest. Natsilane became a legend to their village and some have claimed to have seen him riding the seas on the backs of two great black fish.

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Tsimshian Legends

Story of the White Wolf | Orca Clan

Tsimshain Orca "I used to be a beautiful white wolf; Noo Halidzoks created only one of me because she thought I was the most beautiful of the four-leggeds. I wandered throughout the world looking for someone like myself because I was really lonely. I came back very unhappy because my quest confirmed I was the only white wolf. I fell into a deep sleep. I had a terrific vision and when I awoke I rushed to find Noo Halidzoks. "Ts'i'is (Grandmother), I have had a great vision; it calls for me to go below the great waters and sing the history of the world. I am so very lonely in my present form." Noo Halidzoks was sad, but realized the power of my vision and turned me into a shiny black whale. To remind me that I used to live on land as a wolf, she painted the white markings on my sides. I sank below the great waters singing my song and all the other swimming creatures rushed to greet me as their new family member..

"I am also held in great awe for my power and size, it was believed I could capture a canoe and take it underwater to transform the occupants into Whales. Thus even to this day a Whale near the shore is considered to be a human transformed and trying to communicate with his family. You will recall the story of Luna. In 2001, he became separated from his pod in Nootka Sound on the west coast of B.C. He arrived on the eve of the death of Chief Ambrose Maquinna of the Mowachaht-Muchalath First Nation. The MMFT believed that Luna embodied the spirit of their deceased Chief and was given the name "Tsux'iit", in honour of the late Chief. He stayed for four years until his untimely and unnecessary death.

I am also a popular symbol for romance as I mate for life and look dashing in my black and white tuxedo, I'm hard to resist by the ladies! Like wolf, I stay with my family and travel in pods."


Natcitlaneh was abandoned on an island by his brothers-in-law who were jealous of his prowess as a hunter. He was rescued by the Sea Lions and taken to their village in a cave where he healed their Chief. In gratitude, the Sea Lions gave him supernatural powers which enabled him to carve eight wooden Orcas. These Whales came to life when they were placed in the sea and avenged him by killing his brothers-in-law.

As a mark of respect, Natcitlaneh built a house and named it Orca House. According to the legend, the ancestors visited the house located at the bottom of the ocean to obtain rights to use the Orca as a crest.

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Haida Legends

Sgaana Xaaydagaay: Killer Whale People

Haida Orca The Haida spirit world is inhabited by many creatures from the sea, known as Tsagan xaaydagaay, or the underwater people.

In their earthly form, the underwater people appear as halibut, sharks, sea lions and most other mammals and fish from the sea.

In the spirit world, however, they take the form of humans.

Sgaana xaaydagaay, the killer whale people, are among the most powerful of the people from the sea.

Many stories tell of Haida ancestors putting on skins of killer whales to enter the realm of the spirit world, where killer whale people and humans visit, communicate and feast together.

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Cowichan Legends

The Cowichan Thunderbird and Orca Legend

Cowichan OrcaOne of the earliest legends in the history of the Cowichan Indian Tribes is the legend of the Thunderbird and Orca.
Life along the Cowichan River was one of plenty and good fortune for the Cowichan People. The Cowichan Bay, and Sansum Narrows was full of octopus, crabs, seals, and sea urchins, the beaches full of clams, and oysters. The mountains were bountiful with wild animals, berries, herbs, and roots. The Cowichan and Koksilah Rivers were rich with salmon, trout, and steelhead.
However, there was one time in the history of the Cowichan people when the Rivers went silent from the sounds of salmon splashing up the rivers.
The Cowichan people realized that there was something terribly wrong; there was absolutely no salmon in the Cowichan and Koksilah river system. The people gathered along the shores, and then worked their way down to the mouth of the Rivers trying to find the cause. At the mouth of the river they discovered the cause of the disappearing salmon; to their horror a Supernatural Killer Whale had set claim to the mouth of the Cowichan River, and the salmon were all being mercilessly eaten.
The Cowichan people paddled their huge War Canoes out to the Orca; banging on the sides of their canoes, trying to rid their waters of this mighty creature, but try as they might; they were unable to drive this skilled allusive ocean predator from their home waters.
Thunderbird The Medicine people of all the Cowichan Villages joined together to call upon the powerful support of a Supernatural creature known as Tzinquaw (the Thunderbird).
For four days and four nights the people sang their most ancestral spiritual songs to the Thunderbird, and soon the Thunderbird appeared, and was quickly locked in a fierce battle with the Orca in the skies above St. Ann’s field. The Thunderbird was victorious and the salmon run was saved.
The respect of the traditional lands, the animals, the fish, and the Supernatural has always been a way of life for all Indigenous Native Indian people.
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