The first orca

It's important for us in the Pacific Northwest to always remember that we are guests of those that came before us. Many of the First Nations that have populated the shores of British Columbia have a rich tradition of sharing the land with our local wildlife. These creatures have always been at the centre of their story telling. It's why it's paramount to be able to pass on their stories to future generations. Not only to record those stories but to show appreciation for the animals that are at the centre of them.  For our first story, we will recount the tale of that of the most beloved of symbols of our province, the Orca.

There are many legends, from many a different source, but today I want to pass on one of the most famous. It comes to us from the Haida and Tlinglit nations, further north from us here in Steveston. It’s a story of creation and revenge and shows to us the awe these wonderful creatures had on the peoples of these lands. Like all good stories, it starts with a person. Natsilane was his name.

Natsilane was a skilled carver and a seal hunter of no equal. He could carve a spear that could take down any seal he set his eyes on. One day, while hunting, Natsilane came across another group of hunters that were so impressed by his skill, that they invited him to their village. Natsilane agreed to follow them where he was greeted by everyone. This invitation lasted for many days, Natsilane hunting seal after seal. So impressed by his skills, the village invited him to stay with them. Furthermore, the chief offered his only daughter’s hand in marriage to Natsilane. Natsilane found his forever home among this village, but sadly not all were happy to have him there.

The chief’s eldest son, grew ever jealous of Natsilane. He felt shunned by his own father seeing as how important Natsilane was in his eyes. It was then that the elder conspired with his 3 brothers to betray Natsilane, even at the protest of the youngest. The next time they would go hunting, they would be rid of him.

One day, the 5 leave to go hunting for seal. Natsilane carrying his mighty spear, would be the one to capture today’s meal. Unbeknownst to Natsilane, the 4 brothers would carry out their dark plan. As the winds blew and the waves crashed onto the rocky outcrop the seals inhabit, the men slowly crept up. Natsilane eyed his quarry and leapt from the boat striking a seal just below the water line. But sadly, Natsilane spear broke leaving its tip into the hide of a young seal. His catch got away. As Natsilane surfaced, to his horror his boat was paddling away, the brothers had abandoned Natsilane to his doom. Natsilane, in his grief, swam towards the rocky outcrop and curdled up for a long, cold night.

The next day, Natsilane woke up to cries of help. Running towards the sounds, Natsilane comes across a seal who promptly takes on the form of a man. The seal was from a village under the water and was desperate to find help for the young chief’s son who was injured. Natsilane takes up the call and follows the seal below the waves. There he meets the young injured seal and notices his spear head in the side of the seal, Natsilane was the reason for this poor souls suffering.
Feeling a sense of duty, Natsilane grabs the spear head and yanks it free from the young animal, finally allowing it to drain of pus. Grateful for having saved his son, the seal chief gives him 2 gifts. The first teaching him in his mystical carving skills and the second, passage home to his village. It is then that Natsilane, having been betrayed, plots his revenge against his brothers in law.

Native orca artwork
The Legend of Natsilane

Arriving home, Natsilane made his way to his home to get his tools and to see his wife. Shocked by his arrival, Natsilane’s wife was convinced by her brothers that he was dead. Natsilane made her promise that she wouldn’t tell a soul that she had seen him and kept her word. That night, far away from the village, Natsilane began carving. He carved a creature that would enact his vengeance, a sea creature so large and mighty that it would strike fear to all. He named this creature “Blackfish” (the Haida/Ting name for Orca). He carved it out of Yellow Cedar and released it into the water where it turned to life. Natsilane commanded the creature to attack his brothers in law but to leave the youngest alive.

The next morning, the four brothers go out to hunt for Seal as routine, unknown that danger lurked beneath the waves. Blackfish topples their boat over and corralled the 3 eldest so they may not escape its wrath. The youngest makes it to shore safely and tells the rest of the villagers what happened, of his sins and the anger of Natsilane. Having finished his task, Natsilane ordered Blackfish that he would never harm a human again.

Though Orcas are mighty creatures, they seem to have kept up their promise to Natsilane. As of today, there have been no recorded attacks of Orcas on people in the wild. The pact between man and animal has been kept by our friends of the deep. Natsilane would go down in legend. People spoke of seeing him ride 2 orcas on the hunt for seals.

This was written by Seabreeze Adventures crew member Vincent using information from the book:

Smelcer, J.E. (1993) A cycle of myths: Native Legends from Southeast Alaska. Anchorage: Todd Communications.

Image credit:

The legend of natsilane (2022) Bremerton-Olympic Peninsula Council Navy League of the US. Available at: (Accessed: April 19, 2023).

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