Among the Mama
la, the Village Island People, the eagle position belonged to the highest-ranking Chief in the village. Eagle is the Chief of the birds (an honour that he shares with the Woodpecker). His feather down is used in the T‡a'sa
la to symbolize peace.
The Eagle's Undersea Kingdom counterpart lives in the realm of "
we' and is depicted with green on its beak and body. The sea eagle is the caller for the Undersea Kingdom dancers and one by one calls out all the Undersea dancers at a potlatch.
Dance and Regalia:
"How the Eagle got Sharp Eyes"
as told to Pamela Whitaker by Chief James Wallas (Quatsino Sound and Hope Island).
"In a village where a lot of people lived, someone had to look out for war canoes. The eagle was the only one that could fly to the top of a tall tree, the best place for a lookout. Eagle's eyesight was not very good. He could hardly see anything, especially toward dark. He said to the snail (that creature commonly called a slug in the Pacific Northwest), "May I borrow your eyes?"
"No! I don't want to pull my eyes out." exclaimed the snail.
"Well," Eagle argued, "I've got to look out for war canoes from up to the tree. I want to be able to see them far way, so I can warn my people."
"Alright," the snail finally agreed, "as long as you bring them back to me when your job is finished. I'll use yours while you have mine." Now the snail used to have exceptionally good eyesight. Snails used to be able to see plainly, even a long distance away. So the eagled talked him into exchanging eyes. The snail gave his eyes to the eagle, and the eagle gave his eyes to the snail. Eagle flew to the top of the highest tree.
"My," he said "these eyes I've got now are really good! I can see far, far away." He sat in the tree and sat some more, looking around. Then he made a noise (you know the noise that eagles make when they spot a bear or something unusual - he made that noise). Then he flew down and told the chief there was a canoe approaching, although it was still a long way down the channel. Then he flew back up in the tree again. He watched the canoe come closer and flew back down again to tell the chief.
"Very good!" said the chief. "You're a good man and must have excellent eyesight to be able to see so well." Later on when the trouble was over, eagle came down from his perch on top of the tall tree. Snail was waiting for him.
"I want my eyesight back now," he said.
The eagle replied, "I have decided to keep these eyes. They are much better than the ones I had before." And that is why the snail moves so slowly today."
Dance and Regalia:
A woman in a potlatch will wear the Eagle mask atop her head during the ˜sek
a ceremonies. According to contemporary accounts, the woman will stand near the centre of the floor by the singers. Her movements are slow, steady and graceful following the rhythms of the singers, her hands flat with palms facing up.
This mask was carved, then split vertically along its length to allow for it to be hollowed out, and then fastened back together. The lower jaw is articulated - it was carved and then fastened to the mask using seine twine. It is made from cedar wood, cotton fibre, paint, feathers and iron.
This mask was originally owned by Robert Brown. It was surrendered to the Canadian Museum of Civilization and was returned to U'mista Cultural Centre in 1979.