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Legendary Native American Figures: Thunderbird (Thunder-Birds)

Name: Thunderbird
Tribal affiliation: Sioux, Arapaho, Wichita, Ojibwe, Salish, many other tribes
Native names: Wakinyan (Sioux), Animikii (Anishinaabe), Boh'ooo or Etcitane:bate (Arapaho), Bha'a (Gros Ventre), Cigwe (Potawatomi), Enaemaehkiw/Inaemehkiwak (Menominee)
Type: Nature spirit, thunder, giant bird
Related figures in other tribes: Thunders (Iroquois), Thunder Beings (Lenape), Thunderers (Cherokee)

The Thunderbird is a widespread figure in Native American mythology, particularly among Midwestern, Plains, and Northwest Coast tribes. Thunderbird is described as an enormous bird (according to many Northwestern tribes, large enough to carry a killer whale in its talons as an eagle carries a fish) who is responsible for the sound of thunder (and in some cases lightning as well.) Different Native American communities had different traditions regarding the Thunderbird. In some tribes, Thunderbirds are considered extremely sacred forces of nature, while in others, they are treated like powerful but otherwise ordinary members of the animal kingdom. In Gros Ventre tradition, it was Thunderbird (Bha'a) who gave the sacred pipe to the people. Some Plains tribes associated thunderbirds with the summer season (in Arapaho mythology, Thunderbird was the opposing force to White Owl, who represented winter.)

Thunderbirds are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Thunderbird Clans include the Kwakiutl and Ho-Chunk tribes. On the Northwest Coast, the thunderbird symbol is often used as a totem pole crest.

Thunderbird Stories

Wakinyan Tanka, the Great Thunderbird:
    Lakota Sioux legends about thunderbirds.
Boy Stolen by Thunderbird:
    Hochunk Indian legend about a boy hero who escaped from the Thunderbird.
Thunder-Bird Legends:
    Two Quileute Indian legends about the Thunderbird.
*Thunder Mountain:
    Potawatomi legend about a battle between a thunderbird and a horned serpent.
Iyash and the Horned Serpent:
    Thunderbird legend from the Ojibwe tribe.
*Shawnee Mythology:
    Article on Shawnee oral traditions including stories about Thunderbird.
*Thunder Son:
    Shawnee story about the son of a Thunderbird.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

Brave Wolf and the Thunderbird:
    Children's book by a Native author illustrating a traditional Crow Indian story about a man who helps the thunderbirds.
How Thunder and Lightning Came to Be:
    Picture book based on a Choctaw thunderbird myth.
Whale in the Sky:
    Picture book based on a Northwest Coast legend about how Thunderbird brought Whale to the ocean.

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Additional Resources

 Singing for a Spirit
 Sioux legends
 Dakota language
 Ojibwe words
 Great Plains tribes
 Northwest Coast tribes



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