Nisga'a stories are affirmations of the history of the people, the land and our relationship to animals. Stories were only shared by specific delegates of one's family, and were considered the tangible property of the family.

The Chief's Rattle

In the Nass Valley, there is a sacred hunting lake. Many hunters tried to hunt on this lake, only to perish in its whirlpool. One day, a hunter watched the movements of the whirlpool, counting the bad times and the mild times. He had many successful hunts by timing the whirlpool, setting out carefully on the lake as the whirlpool became mild and returning before it turned bad.

On one hunt, a little bird came out of the water. It stood on the water and shook itself, making the sound of a rattle. The bird's mask-like head was that of a raven, and on its back there was a carving of a frog whose tongue was joined to that of a man.

The hunter knew that this was the spirit bird, who was controlling the movements of the whirlpool. By showing itself to the hunter, the spirit bird was giving him a blessing for more successful hunts. On returning home, the hunter carved a rattle in the shape of the spirit bird to show his respect and thanks.

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The Chief's Rattle
The main figure on rattles is most often the Raven with the sun in his beak. This figure was adopted by the whole Nisga'a community as a common crest figure made and used specifically by chiefs.

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The Spirit Bird
The figure on the "belly" of the rattle is the spirit bird, who controlled the movement of the whirlpool. As with other spirits, the spirit bird had the power to enhance a particular skill, and in this case it was the skill to hunt successfully.

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The Man and the Frog
Most chief's rattles feature a man whose tongue is joined to that of a frog. This represents the sharing of power between people and their spirit guides. With the increased trade and production of rattles, the frog and many other animals have been interchanged. As well, in ancient times the Nisga'a were able to transform into animals and vice versa; animals could become human by removing their skins and humans could become animals by putting on the skins. The face of the man reflects the owner of the rattle, so each man's face is different.

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The Mask-like Figure
The last figure on the back of the rattle usually takes the form of a bird. This bird would be changed depending on the owner's crests, to reflect the owner's personal connection to the animal world. For example, the Wolf tribe uses the wolf or crane, the Eagle tribe uses the eagle or beaver, the Killerwhale tribe uses the grouse or owl, and the Raven/Frog tribe uses the raven or frog.