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Thunderbird is a giant, supernatural bird known for his ability to cause thunder and lighting. Beneath his wings he carries Lightning Snakes, which are his weapons. Thunder rolls from the flap of his wings, and lightening flashes when he blinks his great eyes or throws the Lightning Snakes. He is mighty enough to hunt Orcas which he strikes dead with the wolf-headed, serpent-tongued Lightning Snakes. Thunderbird carries his prey high into the mountains to feed.

Thunderbird is intelligent and proud, and humans who attempt to outwit him are certain to have their intentions backfired.

In the Nuu-chah-nulth stories Thunderbird is a giant mountain-dwelling man who wears a bird-like costume when he ventures out to hunt whales. His Lightening Snakes are feathered serpents; people refer to them as Thunderbird's dogs and their heads are portrayed as dogs or wolves.

Some Coast Salish myths say that Thunderbird' s favorite spot is Black Tusk, a monolithic peak in southern BC.

Thunderbird is very important to the Kwakwaka' wakw, who in legendary times made a deal with the powerful bird: in exchange for his aid during a crisis, the Kwakwaka'wakw agreed to honor him for all time by making his image prominent in their art. Thus a number of their totem poles feature Thunderbird perched on the top with his great wings outstretched. A perfect example would be the iconic work of Kwakwaka'wakw artist Charlie James dated into the early 1900s. A replica of his carved house post is one of the most photographed works of art in Stanley Park, Vancouver. Tony Hunt carved this replica in 1987 to replace the older pole now in the Vancouver Museum.

James experimented with colors and techniques creating a bold new style that has influenced generations of artists including his step-son Mungo Martin and grand-daughter Ellen Neel. 


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