Posted by R. John Howe on 10-08-2003 01:40 PM:

Totemic Animals in the Chilkat Blanket Designs

Dear folks –

The belief systems of the NW American Indians included close relationships between the human and animal world. They believed that animals were ancestral to human society in some sense and that obligations were incurred as a result.

For example, there might be a legend about a particular animal killing a member of a given tribe some time in history.

One result of this is the tribe obtained the right to claim that animal as a totemic figure of its own.

The term “crest” is used to describe the right of a tribe to claim a particular animal as one of it totemic figures. Presumably, as the result of the tribe or clan’s “crest” rights, the totem exerted a protective function.

I have seen the designs on various Chilkat dancing blankets described as:

Hawk (or Raven)
Brown Bear
Diving whale
Sea bear
Standing eagle

One has to be careful about these names for particular designs because some of them have been proposed by researchers, rather than by actual Chilkat usages.

Nevertheless, the designs seem likely to be the result of “crest” relationships the drawers of the pattern boards (and likely their communities) saw that their tribe as having with particular animals.


R. John Howe