Thinking About Birds, Thinking With Birds-Perspectives from Northwest North America
Main Johnson, Leslie
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Birds are salient actors in human environments around the world, and are carriers of meaning, their actions invested with a range of significance. This paper will present thoughts on the significance of birds in several cultures in Northwest North America based on long term research with Gitksan, Witsuwit’en, Kaska and Gwich’in . The observations I share were made by spending time on the land with people and in conversation —that is in everyday circumstances and through commonly repeated traditional stories. Accordingly what I present is a series of examples of certain salient birds and their meanings across the range of localities where I’ve worked. As such they are common birds, frequently observed. Relationships with these birds include: commensalism and sharing; power; birds as food; symbolic and metaphoric associations; and ecological relationships. Birds often appear as art motifs, and have strong roles in traditional narratives. Birds also enrich human experience.