Collection: The Thunderbird Symbol

Indigenous Significance of the Thunderbird Symbol

From his home in the highest mountains, Thunderbird rules majestically, being sure to keep a close watch over his dominion. The esteemed ancestor of many prominent human lineages, Thunderbird is a proud, powerful and noble being in stories throughout the Northwest Coast. The giant supernatural bird is intelligent and named for his habit of causing thunder and lightning. Any human who dares attempt to outwit Thunderbird can be certain to have their intentions backfire (Shearar).


Thunderbird is well equipped to hunt and defend himself. Beneath Thunderbird’s wings, you will find Lighting Snakes, which are his weapons. It is believed that thunder rolls from the flap of his wings, and lightning flashes when he blinks or throws the Lightning Snakes. Unlike the Eagle, Thunderbird is large and strong enough to hunt Killer Whale which he strikes dead with the wolf-headed, serpent-tongued Lightning Snakes (Shearar). 


The Kwakwaka’wakw cherish Thunderbird because of his assistance during a time of crisis. In exchange for Thunderbird’s aid, the Kwakwaka’wakw agreed to honour him in their art for eternity. Thus, it is very common to find the giant, noble bird perched atop their totem poles with his great wings outstretched (Shearar).

 

Artistic Characteristics of the Thunderbird Symbol

In artwork, Thunderbird exhibits a powerful hooked beak; prominent, often curly, ears; large legs and talons; and large, outstretched wings. Pairs of Lighting Snakes, harpoon-like, long-tongued serpents, are frequently depicted underneath the Nuu-chah-nulth Thurderbird’s wings (Shearar).

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