Raven

Raven

Raven mount, standing on base with wings tucked in

A large black corvid, known as a scavenger, hunter and trickster. Scientific name: Corvus corax.

The Common Raven is prevalent throughout the Yukon and can be found as far north as Hershel Island. These wily scavengers are found close to towns most times of the year but they are especially common in the winter. They eat a wide range of food items from insects to mountain ash berries, spruce and pine cones, and moose carcasses. They are found wherever food is found, and are seen frequently scavenging around garbage dumps and large mammal kills.

The use of the name crow is a misnomer in the Yukon. The often inaccurately labelled black birds seen in the Yukon are actually ravens, the largest member of the crow family. Most people in the Yukon use the names interchangeably which causes some confusion. Ravens can be differentiated from crows by noting certain physical features. Ravens are much bigger than crows. A raven is roughly the size of a hawk. The feathers are also slightly different, the feather tail is more pointed and the feathers themselves have an angular shape.

Crow mythology is prevalent throughout the Yukon. Crow is credited with being creator, transformer, and trickster. Half of First Nations in the Yukon use the crow as a moiety identifier in their social structure. The social structure of the Yukon First Nations is delineated by the matriarch. The mother passes down her moiety (clan) affiliation to her children. Societal rules calls on opposite moieties to perform certain tasks, especially when dealing with rites of passage. For example, only opposite moieties may marry. In most Yukon First Nations this means persons affiliated with the crows must marry a person with wolf designation, the other prominent moiety. The raven is considered an intelligent and clever bird. The folklore represents Crow in much the same way. He is smart but cunning and more often than not mischievous, but it is for these very reasons that he is very much respected. First Nations peoples never hunted or ate raven. Presumably, this was the practice in order to appease the raven's trickster spirit. As representative of the crow moiety, crow people have dances and songs that depict Crow myth.

Regarded as the creator by Yukon First Nations many stories surrounding the folklore of Crow deal with the earth coming into existance as we recognise it today. One such story explains why we have daylight and why the animals have spirits that humans must respect. In myth time, all the 'people' were the same. They all lived on the land and could talk to each other. Long ago when the world was completely dark, the Raven Creator asked the 'night people' for food. The 'night people' refused to feed Raven, so he punished them. He opened a box he stole which contained the sun. The people were afraid of the sun and scattered throughout the land. Those that sought the trees turned into land animals. Those that jumped into the sea became water dwellers. Those who jumped into the air grew wings and flew away. Yet those that remained kept their human form. This legend was to explain why First Nations and animals are spiritually connected. The stories of First Nations Yukon vary from place to place and from speaker. This is one example of the legend of crow bringing light to earth. Many variations exist, this particular story is condensed and is only meant to convey the essence of the legend.

Institution

Kluane Museum of History, Burwash Landing

Accession Number

1976.21

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