A Raven Funeral

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I once had the honour of organizing a Potlatch or two. On the day of the 1st Potlatch, with thousands of people planning on attending, I was panicking and pacing. It was the Grand Chief of Yukon First Nations who asked me if I had done everything possible to prepare, and I said yes. “Then all will be fine,” she assured me.

An eagle flew over us.

“There,” she said, “the ancestors are with us. All will be fine.” And it was.

I am going to assume some people who are reading this may not know that in indigenous cultures, eagles are often considered to be the ancestors watching over us. So, an eagle flying over us is a good sign. We were being watched, and in a good way. And if you find a feather, or someone gives you a feather, it is a true gift.

Eagles are amazing but one of the birds I enjoyed the most – ravens. Ravens are so intelligent and one in particular is burnt into my brain: Bilbo. Bilbo is (or was, as it has been many years) a raven who lived in Watson Lake, Yukon. Something happened to him when he was young and his beak was crooked, but it didn’t slow him down. I saw him often outside the grocery store in the small town of 1,200 where he would sit on the roof of trucks watching for food which he would eat with his head turned sideways.

Bilbo the raven hanging out and eating on truck rooftops in Watson Lake, Yukon

And when he was done, or when the truck was leaving, Bilbo would stand on the roof of the truck until the truck hit a certain speed, spread his wings and achieve lift off with no effort required. Then he would circle back, find the next truck roof, rinse and repeat. Brilliant.

So, with my fascination and love of ravens, I have to share that I once saw a raven funeral. I was looking out my window at work when a raven landed on a transformer (on a power line) and was instantly electrocuted. This caused the transformer to blow (power outage), making a massive BOOM sound and the raven fell lifeless to the ground. It was a cold, clear winter day and the blue, cloudless sky was empty until the raven fell to the ground. Then, from I don’t know where, hundreds of ravens filled the sky and flew in a clockwise circle over the body of the raven.

This lasted all of maybe 20 to 30 seconds and then they flew away leaving the sky empty again. To this day, it is one of the wildest things I have ever seen. I picked up my phone and called my Tagish Elder friend and told her I just saw a raven funeral, describing how all the ravens showed up, appearing to pay their respects and then as the spirit of the raven left the body, they all left. My friend was pleased I understood what I had seen.


About the Author

Janet Sheriff

An innovative entrepreneur, Janet brings her extensive experience in all aspects of strategic planning, management, indigenous affairs and communications to start ups, new ventures and the mining & exploration sectors. Janet focuses her entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills and vision to create new opportunities, award-winning innovative programs and new ways of conducting business. Her strong commitment to community engagement, sustainability and inclusion provides her the proven ability to work effectively and respectfully in cross-cultural environments.