The Haida are renowned around the world for the beauty and complexity of their art and images. The bold lines of the Haida designs make them uniquely suited to be reproduced as tattoos. And for good reason – the art with which the Haida are synonymous today, the totems poles, carvings and prints – are largely derived from ancient tattoo designs that the Haida used to depict Clan Crests. The Haida were once one of the most heavily tattooed indigenous people in the world, and were one of very few groups in recorded history to tattoo in colour, using red as well as black.
Haida crests chronicled important mythological events in the family or clan’s history – usually when an ancestor encountered a spiritual being in a supernatural context. Oftentimes, stories related to these events were told and retold, in turn setting the specific family or clan apart from others while defining their social position among Haida society.
When tattooed upon the body or carved onto an object, crests served as title to the animal or geographic feature depicted on it as well as to its spirit. Thus, the right to a crest, the right to use the emblem, was more valuable than the particular physical object itself. Individuals who were freshly tattooed were presented by their families to the community at a ceremonial potlatch.
Crests were symbols of power & prestige & their owners were given the right to pass them on to their heirs.
The two major Haida Clans were Raven and Eagle, with numerous sub-septs, symbolized by Bear, Frog, Hummingbird, Beaver, Otter, Wolf and many others. The powerful animal totems and spirits that surrounded the Haida were also well represented, Orca (Killer Whale), Salmon, Thunderbird and many, many more.
Get inspired by some really amazing images and tattoos of Haida crests in our Haida Tattoo Gallery