“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.
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