Caribou Symbolism and Meaning and the Caribou Spirit Animal

Caribou Meaning and Symbolism
Caribou symbolism and meanings include endurance, regeneration, vision, majesty, and other noble qualities. These mighty animals have many powerful associations, especially for the Indigenous Peoples of North America, because they are blessed with some unusual traits. If the caribou spirit animal resonates with you, read on because you have a powerful spirit guide on your side!

(If you are interested in the caribou’s Scandinavian cousin, the reindeer, please check out my dedicated post on reindeer symbolism and meanings.)

Caribou on Mountainside

Surviving and thriving in the extreme conditions of their northern habitat is no small feat. Caribou are hardy animals who roamed all over the Northern Hemisphere for millions of years. However, today their habitat is comprised of the very northern parts of the world, including Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia, Greenland, and parts of Asia.1 

What does the caribou symbolize?

Here’s a quick list of caribou symbols and meanings. You can read more details about each below:

  • Endurance
  • Regeneration
  • Travel
  • Vision
  • Friends and Family
  • Life Force
  • Majesty

What does the word caribou mean?

The word caribou is derived from the Native American word yalipu, which means “snow-shoveler” in the Algonquin tongue. Indigenous People saw caribou pushing snow away from the ground with their hooves and antlers, so they could eat the vegetation underneath.

Hence, their name – the snow shovelers. When French explorers came to Canada in the 17th century, they translated the word yalipu to caribou.2

Detailed Caribou Symbolism and Meanings

Here are details on what the caribou symbolizes:


Caribou migrate for hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of miles every year. They are incredibly fast runners who can achieve speeds of up to 70 mile per hour. In addition, they are strong swimmers who can cross rough currents of Arctic rivers. Because they can thrive in sub-zero temperatures, they are symbols of strength and endurance.


Caribous also symbolize regeneration. Both male and female caribou shed their antlers once per year – the males in winter and the females in early spring. Then, their antlers begin to grow again. Thus, the caribou is a positive symbol of the cycle of the seasons and the regeneration of life. The caribou teaches us that what seems like a loss can, in fact, be a new door to something greater.

The Inuit have a legend about wolves and caribou that illustrates the caribou as a symbol of regeneration.

Caribou Symbolism in Inuit Culture

The Wolf and the Caribou

Wolf pack hunting
Before time began, there was only a woman and a man in the world. So, the woman dug a hole in the ground all the way until she found water, and she attempted to fish. Not only did she find fish, but she soon began to pull all kinds of animals out of the hole. The last one was the caribou.

The woman let the caribou go free and soon more caribou were born. The man and woman began to hunt the caribou, and more people were created.

However, the people made a tragic mistake by hunting only the largest caribou, who were also the strongest. Soon, there were only frail and sick caribou left. The people too began to grow weak and sickly, as they had not respected the caribou spirit.

So, the woman prayed to the wolf spirit to help the people. The wolf came and told the people to pause hunting watch how the wolves hunted. The wolves only hunted the sick and weak caribou. Soon, the caribou grew strong again. The people learned that as the caribou fed the wolves, the wolves made the caribou strong and their life force was regenerated.3


Most caribou herds migrate long distances every year. Thus, they are symbols of travel. The caribou is a positive symbol to meditate on when you feel that your life is stagnant and you need the wherewithal to pull yourself out of a rut. The caribou inspired you to get moving so you can find the greener pastures that are waiting for you.

Caribou Symbolism in Ojibwe Culture

In ancient Indigenous cultures, caribou meaning is synonymous with even a magical ability to travel. The Ojibwe told the story of seeing caribou walk on water. There is one Ojibwe legend about a mythological place that was described as being south of where Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron is today. According to Ojibwe legends, the caribou could walk on water in this magical place, and eventually, the people learned to walk on the water and hunt them there.4

Modern-day scientists realized that that legend wasn’t all fantasy. There was actually an ancient land mass under the water in the location that the Ojibwe described in their stories. And not only that, archeologists discovered biological evidence and artifacts that were 9,000 years old that proved that Paleo Native Americans had hunted caribou in the area.5

Caribou Symbolism: The Visionary

Caribou close up
Caribou have special eyesight that lets them distinguish what they see in a bright white winter landscape of 24 hours of daylight. Likewise, their unique eyes let them see during the winter months of nonstop darkness.

The caribou’s special eyes have adapted to these extremes, and they change from deep blue in the winter to golden yellow in the summer.6

When the caribou is your spirit guide, you have the ability to see things that others do not. There is far more going on in the Universe than what most people see in their immediate purview. The sensitive caribou spirit animal imbues you with the capacity of foresight – to anticipate what my come in the future.

There are ways that you can hone your inherent psychic abilities. Meditation and prayer are a key way to do so. They will help you to tune into your spirit guides, or messages from your angels. Spending time in quiet in nature will also tune your senses. In addition, many intuitives believe that adhering to a vegan diet, particularly one focused on raw foods, will help to further sharpen your psychic abilities. After all, the highly sensitive yet powerful caribou is also an herbivore!

Tap into caribou wisdom when you are trying to understand both the obvious and the subtle of a given situation. Most people can see what is obvious in broad daylight, but only a few, like the caribou, can see through the darkness and have insights into what is happening in their world.

Friends and Family

There is strength in numbers, and the caribou demonstrates this. They are known to travel in mega herds of over 300,000 animals.7 Thus, caribou meaning also exemplifies the power of your personal connections: friends, family, and even colleagues.

While it takes energy to stay connected with the people you know, the caribou reminds you that this is the key to survival and fulfillment. Expanding your network and making sure you regularly connect with the people in your life will expand your horizons and enrich your life experience.

Life Force

For the Dene and other Indigenous Peoples of the north, the caribou is vital to their survival for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. Thus, caribou are symbols of life itself. For the Chippewa and Algonquin tribes, the caribou also represents vigilance and awareness – which are essential skills for survival.

The Inuit have a legend about respecting the life force of the caribou.

The Legend of the Caribou Man

The Inuit have legends about Animal Masters, or spirit guides, who oversee the care and survival of different species of animals. In addition, they give permission to the Inuit to hunt animals for food and materials. One of the most powerful of these guides is the Caribou Man. 

Legend has it that the Caribou Man was an Inuit man who fell in love with a caribou woman. In doing so, he too became a caribou, and eventually an Animal Master.

The Inuit know that if they are not respectful of the caribou by adhering to long-held rituals about hunting them, they can anger the Caribou Man. If Caribou man is angry, he may withhold the animals from the people and cause famines.8

Thus, caribou meaning is also associated with treating life and living beings with reverence.


Caribou family
Caribou are known for their incredibly large antlers, particularly the males, whose antlers can grow to 5 feet tall. The caribou’s antlers are their crowning glory. Thus another caribou meaning is majesty.

The caribou reminds you to stand tall in your regalness. Be proud of who you are, where you come from, and what you stand for. As Maya Angelou said, “Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” The caribou reminds you that you have within you the power to live a majestic life. 


Caribou Spirit Animal

Caribou Spirit Animal

Does the caribou spirit animal resonate with you? These powerful beings represent life force for many Indigenous Peoples of the northern parts of the Earth. Blessed with special skills to thrive in extreme environments, the caribou is a dynamic spirit guide to have on your side.

If a caribou captures your attention, whether in real life of or in art, a film, or the media, pay attention. There are no coincidences. The caribou can have special messages for you that can help to guide you on your life path.

Caribou Totem

For the Inuit, the Ojibwe, and other Indigenous Peoples who share a homeland with the caribou, the caribou totem animal is synonymous with life itself. They rely on the caribou for food, clothing, shelter, and tools. Thus, they have a deep reverence for these animals. Important rituals must be followed when they hunt caribou. One is that they never exploit the animals. A lesson they learned from wolves is to hunt only the weak and sick, which keeps the caribou herd strong.

Caribou Medicine

Caribou Medicine
Caribou medicine is in line with holistic medicine. After all, caribou are an essential part of an entire ecosystem. Their presence keeps the ecosystem in which they exist balanced and productive.

The caribou spirit animal reminds you to not just treat symptoms or to seek out quick fixes. Psychological, emotional, physical, financial, and other challenges are usually never about one issue. While it can be practical to compartmentalize at times and to remember the things that are going well in your life, it’s also important to understand how one area of your life can impact the others. For example, being in a toxic relationship or work situation can affect your health, your future happiness, and the other people in your life. The caribou spirit animal reminds you to view every area of your life from the perspective of whether it’s healthy or not.

When to Summon the Caribou Power Animal

Caribou Snow Scene
The energy of the caribou spirit guide can be especially helpful in certain situations. Meditate on the caribou totem when you need:

  • Perseverance in difficult times
  • Speed, stamina, and endurance
  • The wherewithal to reinvigorate yourself after loss or defeat
  • Good luck on your travels
  • Help from your personal network or expanded community
  • Vision and insight into a situation
  • Confidence in a new situation or one that makes you feel intimidated

The caribou’s antlers represent majesty and pride; they are the crown on their head. Even if you don’t always feel it, by simply being alive, you have the power within you to create something magnificent in your life. The caribou spirit animal is here to help you!

Caribou Dreams

If you dream of a caribou or a herd of caribou, and you are curious about what it could mean, consider how you felt in the dream. For example, did you feel anxious, fearful, or excited? Then, from the emotions you felt, you can begin to find clues into what the dream is meant to teach you.

For example, caribou are incredibly fast animals who travel hundreds of miles every year. If your dream is of caribou running, it may mean you need to get unstuck, change your situation, and seek out greener pastures. Likewise, if you dream of caribou quietly grazing, it can mean you should slow down and take the time to nourish your body, mind, and spirit. 

Caribou Tattoo Meaning

Caribou Tattoo

While they are certainly not as common as tattoos with animals like wolves and lions, a caribou tattoo can be something special in both its uniqueness and its meanings. These animals exemplify the ability to not only survive, but also thrive in the most challenging of conditions. They also represent family and friendships, as they travel in huge herds, sometimes in the tens of thousands. In addition, the caribou’s antlers are their crowning glory, thus a caribou tattoo can represent your ability to reach your ultimate potential as a human being.

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you for this article! We have a cabin on a resource road thousands of kilometers from the nearest caribou herd! On Sunday morning, 16th of June of this year, we were having breakfast when a lone caribou appeared walking past our cabin on the road! I have never heard of or have ever heard anyone mention any caribou in this area or have ever seen any here! Finding the symbolism to be uncanny with my thoughts of late!

    1. Wow! How lucky for you to have this encounter! Perhaps they caribou ventured further south for summer. I am so glad to you took the time to look up the special meanings of this encounter. Take care!

  2. Thank you. I have been researching different spiritual practices including the use of talisman or amulets totems for an assignment. This has been most helpful. As my interest was the Inuk and other regional groups in this area. The information you provided was a delight to read and very informative. Once again thank you.

  3. Very informative and inspiring! I am volunteering as a reader in two elementary schools and look forward to sharing the different aspects of the significance of caribou in Indigenous cultures and the Arctic. Thank you for sharing!

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Kristen M. Stanton

Hello. Thanks for visiting UniGuide. My name is Kristen and I started UniGuide as a tribute to nature, animals, and spiritual exploration. I hope you enjoy your experience here!