The Dogfish Woman (Qqaaxhadajaat)

Dogfish woman located at 3000 level AQ. Photo courtesy SFU Galleries
Other representations of the dogfish woman by Bill Reid include this offset commercial print located at the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Courtesy of the Bill Reid Estate.
Other representations of the dogfish woman by Bill Reid include this transformation pendant made from boxwood. It is located at the Bill Reid Gallery in downtown Vancouver. Courtesy of the Bill Reid Estate. Photo by Kenji Nagai.

Title/Date: Dogfish Woman, 1991
Artist: Bill Reid
Culture/Language Group: Haida
Media: Plaster, steel, and marble
Credit Line: SFU Collection on long term loan
Location: AQ 3000 level, northwest corner


One of the most powerful supernatural beings of Haida mythology is the elusive Dogfish Woman, who derives her shamanic powers from the dogfish (a small shark). Seen here in her human form, the snout of the dogfish has become a crown and she wears a labret in her lower lip, which is a sign of aristocracy among the Haida. The story of the Dogfish Woman is difficult to trace, and only fragments of the narrative have survived into the present. Like many Haida stories, the story of the Dogfish Woman is one of transformation and movement between the human and non-human realms. Among many other themes, this story speaks to the attraction between sexes, barriers between species, and lost love.

The story as recorded by Franz Boas:

A woman went travelling with her husband. She used to make fun of the dogfish. They went to visit a small rock in the sea. When they were out there, the dogfish, whose home the rock was, came and took the woman down into the sea. There she discovered that the dogfish were really people. They had taken off their dogfish blankets. After she had stayed in the house for some time, fins began to grow upon her arms, her legs, and her back. Her husband was searching for her everywhere, but he was not able to find her. After a number of years he found her. Her face had remained unchanged; but fins had grown on her arms, on her legs, on her back, and on her head. She never returned. Ever since that time her family have used the dogfish crest, and their house is called the Dogfish House.

Additional Information - The Dogfish Woman

Dogfish Woman and Bear Mother are elements taken from the monumental sculpture The Sprit of Haida Gwaii, and were created as stand alone sculptures.

The heads were selected by the artist to be cast in bronze as sculpture editions of nine and exhibited for sale at the Bushlen Mowat Galllery in Vancouver in 1993/96. Reid selected the images as being forms that were both aesthetically pleasing and spiritually meaningful to him. The artist’s proofs seen here, were generously donated by Allan and Faigie Waisman in 2002.


Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). Dogfish Woman: A Haida Ocean Story. 1998. Virtual Museum of Canada: Haida People: Stories.  Web.

Bringhurst, Robert. “The Anthropologist and the Dogfish” in A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World. 1999. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre. Print.

Reid, Bill and Robert Bringhurst. The Raven Steals the Light: Native American Tales. 1996. Boston: Shambhala. Print.

Bringhurst, Robert. Black Canoe: Bill Reid and the Spirit of Haida Gwaii. 1995. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print.

Haida Art

Augaitis, Daina. Raven Traveling: Two centuries of Haida Art. 2006. Seattle/Vancouver Vancouver Art Gallery. Print.

MacDonald, George F.. Haida Art. 1999. Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre. Print           

MacDonald, George F.. Haida Monumental Art: Villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands. 1983. Vancouver: UBC Press. Print.

Wright, Robin, Diana Augaitis, Robert Davidson and James Hart. Charles Edenshaw. 2013. London: Black Dog Publishing. Print.

Bill Reid:

Duffek, Karen and Charlotte Townsend-Gault.  Bill Reid and Beyond. 2004. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print.

Reid, Bill. Solitary Raven: Selected Writings of Bill Reid. 2000. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

Shadbolt, Doris. Bill Reid. 1989. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

Steltzer, Ulli. The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: Bill Reid’s Masterpiece. 1997. Vancouver/Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. Print

The Bill Reid Foundation. The Raven’s Call. 2010. Web.