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What do Orcas Mean to the Aboriginal People of BC?

August 5, 2015

We live in one of the most majestic and natural corners of the entire globe. From its highest peaks to its deepest depths, British Columbia is home not only to some of our country’s most powerful animals, but to our nation’s most powerful people.

The aboriginal people of BC have shared a spiritual kinship with the province’s other longterm inhabitant: the Orca Whale.

Orcas are one of the most important figures in aboriginal culture. They’re featured prominently in works of art as a protector of the people, a symbol of power that inspires humanity to live well, live strong and take care of eachother.

A Symbol of Everlasting Strength

Some say the Killer Whale is the guardian of the ocean, an intelligent beast who commands respect from other sea creatures such as seals, dolphins and sharks. Aboriginal legends say that the souls of drowned humans are transformed in the deepest waters of the ocean into a Killer Whale.

For the aboriginal people of BC, this legend speaks to the longevity of the Orca and represents the resiliency shared with the people in the face of hardship, change and challenge.

Living Naturally With Land & Sea

One of the most cherished creeds of the aboriginal people is to live life in tandem with the gifts of the earth. For them, no animal represents the power of nature more than the Killer Whale. It’s said that the Orca is a special protector of humans, a bond which is cherished by both man and beast provided both live in harmony with the land.

And as the Orca lives by the sea, the aboriginal people live by the land. Each hunts for food and celebrates the life made possible by the life taken.

The Neverending Family Bond

Orca Whales care for each offspring individually, nurturing the calf through childhood, adolescence and into maturity. These animals are a shining light for the aboriginal people, who’s own familial unit operates in much the same way.

Fully mature males spend their entire life with the mothers, they care deeply for their family and hunt and travel to preserve that which is most precious. Orcas mourn the deaths not only their family, but of all the members of their pod. It’s this habit that the aboriginal people of BC hold dear. The value of an Orca’s life is a tenant all humanity would do well to adopt.

Sheenah Duclos, the head naturalist at Orca Spirit, shared this story that perfectly captures this special bond.

“A few years ago, a young male named Luna, a member in L-Pod, left the group and swam into Nootka sound for unknown reasons at the time. It turned out that an aboriginal chief in the area had recently died. The story goes that it was told he would come back as an orca whale. After Luna left he lived the rest of his days in Nootka sound. No whale has ever left one of the BC-area pods before or since. A few years after that, Luna did in fact meet up with his family and his new sister briefly, but remarkably, he chose to remain in Nootka sound where he still swims today, alone.” 

A Spiritual Attachment

Our legends are the result of stories told over time. The aboriginal legends surrounding BC’s Orcas are shrouded in mystery, yet born of true encounters and experiences. It’s up to us to foster these experiences and to learn more about our nautical neighbours and the tales they have to tell us about our past.

The Orca Whale is a spiritual beacon, a reminder of our impact on the planet and on those around us. And even though much of their background is open to interpretation, the connection we have with the whales has the power to shape our perspective of the world and to influence our entire system of belief.

So, what do you believe?



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