“In 2008 at the opening of my Ngā Manu a Tāne exhibition at Spirit
Wrestler Gallery, I had the pleasure of meeting ‘Beaker’, a Burrowing Owl
that acts as an ambassador for the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society in
Oliver, British Columbia, to promote awareness for the need in protection of
the species. A wonderful magical experience and this work honours Beaker
and his mates.”
Owls are nocturnal hunting birds with the skills of silent flight, acute vision
and hearing. Owls are also believed to have great wisdom and perception.
The owl is an essential character of the Atlakim, Dance of the Forest
Spirits, of the Kwakwaka’wakw people. The complete series of forty masks
represented the captured knowledge of the forest. Other Atlakim bird
characters performed are Raven of the Woods, Sparrow Woman, Tying
Woman (Blue Jay), Partridge Woman, Thrush and Grouse.
The Burrowing Owl has a more specific reputation south of the Canadian
border. In the American Southwest, the Hopi regard the Burrowing
Owl as sacred, their god of the dead, guardian of fires, and protector of
the earth because of the owl’s ability to live underground. They named it,
Ko’ko, meaning ‘Watcher of the Dark’. In Utah and Nevada, the Gosiute tribe
believes the Burrowing Owl to be a protector spirit for their warriors,
wearing and using their feathers as decoration on rattles. The Burrowing
Owl migrates north to Canada and is found in southeastern British Columbia,
Alberta and Saskatchewan.