Master of the Winter Ceremonies, Thunderbird is a massive, mystical and powerful bird who creates thunder by beating his wings, and whose eyes flash with lightening. Thunderbird is so strong he can lift whales into the sky. For this reason, Thunderbird is associated with sustenance, as he was called upon during times of difficulty. Thunderbird is credited with bringing whales to the people, which they would sometimes follow for days before they were able to strike.
Thunderbird is central in many legends on the Pacific Northwest Coast. One of the stories about Thunderbird involves a young boy named Twisted Foot, who isn’t permitted to carve with the men because he is crippled. He sets off in a little craft, rowing far away from the village, feeling hurt and ashamed for being the subject of ridicule and rejection. On his journey, he meets Thunderbird. Twisted Foot tells Thunder Bird that if he could have the chance to carve with the men, he would carve Thunder Bird at the very top of his totem pole. Thunder Bird is quite impressed with this idea, and so he lifts Twisted Foot and his little boat into his wings, and flies him home. Of course, Twisted Foot was received with honor and was never teased again. And he kept his promise to carve Thunder Bird at the top of the Totem Pole, which is why to this day Thunder Bird is never seen anywhere else on any Totem Pole he graces.
Thunderbird, Eagle and Kolus look very similar, but one way to decipher a Thunderbird from the others is to look for his ear appendage, which sits on top but near the back of his head, and curls back. Eagle’s appendage is not curled and Kolus’s appendage is reminiscent of a rectangular shaped feather that is positioned horizontally above his head.
Campbell River Museum & Archives