(Note: This post constitutes our final "Legend of the Thunderbird")
“Once, there was a sea monster which greatly troubled the Nootka, for it would wait at the mouth of the river for children to swim when it would catch and eat them. The Nootka did not know what to do for their children had to learn to swim if they were to catch Whale. So they asked Thunderbird and he told them to make belts of the whale skin and put it on a brave child. This child had then to swim out towards the sea monster and when he was swallowed, to shout “snake in belly” when the belt would kill the sea monster. “For” said Thunderbird, “I have turned the magic of the double-headed serpent into the skin of the whale and it shall turn the poison against the sea monster”. From that day on, the children of this child that slew the sea monster bore the crest of Thunderbird upon their canoes and his image shows where the shores are safe to the Nootka, to this day”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Winter 1984)
“When the Sun has his longest trail to cover, then must we consider what we must do to prepare to put out to sea and hunt whale. At these times do we rejoice as sons of Thunderbird, that we can come together and talk of these things and seek his counsel. For he is wise and has hunted whale since before the world began and is able to kill the double-headed serpent who can turn canoes to stone so that they sink. Then at the end of this counsel shall be a great Potlatch and a great giving of gifts and shall each chief give all his substance so that none invited are offended by a small gift. For from the wisdom of Thunderbird, shall we go out on the great waters and bring back whale, whose skin shall be made into a belt and whose flesh shall make us rich and whose bone shall be our treasure”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Fall 1984)
“The Mink is the son of the Sun and lives at Qalogwis. He is foolish, amorous and full of curiosity. He killed his friend Land Otter because he coveted his wife and Frog-Woman disliked him because he has a long face, small eyes and smells. He is very greedy and fond of sea eggs. He steals clams from the houses of the women by the shore and when they complain, he turns them into starfish. Yes, Mink is greedy and covetous, but most of all he is foolish. One day he thought he would carry the Sun in his father’s place. So, arising early and before his father, he took the shining ball out to make the day, but he could not carry it and dropped it on the earth between Bella-Bella and Bella Coola where it set the forests on fire. Then were all men and animals greatly afraid for they thought the whole world would burn. They called out to Thunderbird who sent Tsona, his cousin. He put on his magic garment and there was thunder, lightning and a great hailstorm which out the fire. Even today, when the forests burn, Thunderbird will protect his people and spread his cloak and bring the rain. For his cloak is the clouds, which bring the rain in season”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Spring 1984)
“There once was a woman named Gauo who had four grandsons. Each of these grandsons began one of the four great Tsimshian tribes that we know today and men have wondered why they should have done so and where they received their crests of the Thunderbird as Thunderbird-World-Shaker, Thunderbird-Whale-Killer, Thunderbird-at-End-of-World and Thunderbird-Spirit-Corner. This came to pass when Gauo’s father could find no husband for her and he call all men and leaders of the animals about him. One by one he asked the men to marry his daughter but they would not. Then he went to more and more powerful animals, each of whom told him what they could do, but would not marry his daughter. Finally, a stroke of lightning came down from heaven and Thunderbird appeared in the guise of the handsomest and strongest of men and he took Gauo with him to heaven and they had many children. But Gauo wished her kind to return to earth so she besought Thunderbird who permitted four grand-sons to return and these are the forebears of the Tsimshian today”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Winter 1983)
“Thunderbird lives with the other spirits in heaven and works with them to control the affairs of men. His thunder and lightning warn of the death of a member of his sign and Killerwhale called ‘Spouting-at-Mouth-of-River’ comes to take away a dead person. He takes him aboard a small canoe, which then becomes a killer whale. The dead one is told to spout, and if he does he goes to heaven with Thunderbird and Killerwhale. If he does not, he is taken back to his grave and left there”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Autumn 1983)
“The bravest warriors are the children of Thunderbird. Qolos, the younger brother of Thunderbird, lives in heaven and flew down to become the ancestor of the Lalelamin of the Nimkish and also of the Wiwomasgem and the Sisemle. The daughters of Thunderbird found a box drifting in the sea and one of them married the man who was hidden in the box and later taught him to wear an eagle skin so that he could fly and learn to catch whales like the Thunderbird. Thunderbird has endowed his people with great gifts which are theirs for evermore. He appeared to the Qexsem as a person with a face like a bird called Kwakunxbalisela (Thunderbird – at End of World) and gave them supernatural gifts which included the ability to look into the soul of men”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Summer 1983)
“There was a time when the animals led by Omat and Kwekwaxawe went to war with Thunderbird. Now the four eldest children of Thunderbird were mighty fishermen and known from their prowess as One-Whale-Carrier, Two-Whale-Carrier, Three-Whale-Carrier, and Four-Whale-Carrier. They were always fishing and the other animals sought to catch them by guile. So they built an artificial whale in which they went to Thunderbird’s village, Kunwaas. One by one the eldest children of Thunderbird were lured to the artificial whale and drowned. Only the nine-month old infant son survived to carry on his family and this is why it does not thunder very often nowadays, only when Thunderbird moves from the winter to the summer side of his house or as an omen when someone who has the Thunderbird crest is about to die. Because the infant Thunderbird was painted with ochre and wore a strap around his neck, these are now put on infants when they are nine months old”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Spring 1983)
“Thunderbird lives at Kunwaas, not far from Qalogwis. He is chief of the village of the birds and is the only one who owns a salmon trap. But his salmon are the killer whales, the only fish big enough for mighty Thunderbird. Not only does he catch them with his traps, but with his spears which are lightning bolts. He sits on top of his pole as does the Tsimshiam fisherman at his weir. As well as whale, he catches the double headed serpent which is a menace to the tribe. Thus, he keeps men from evil and, as he sits upon his pole, he can meditate on the ways of the lower-world and remember all that has passed since before the world began. He is the wisest of birds and the strongest”.
(As published in The Thunderbird Journal, Winter 1982)
The Thunderbird has been the symbol of Military Police in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than 45 years. In 1967, with unification of the three armed services into a single organization on the horizon (Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force), the Insignia Steering Group (ISG) recommended the use of the aboriginal totemic Thunderbird as the symbol for the newly-created Security Branch.
According to one of the members of the ISG, the idea for the Thunderbird as an appropriate symbol was originated by Captain Alexander Kinnear, a past president of the Canadian Military Intelligence Association (CMIA). Captain Kinnear donated to the CMIA an original wood carving of a First Nations totem pole in the form of a Thunderbird that had been created by noted Canadian aboriginal artist Henry Hunt.
You can learn much more about the reasons behind the selection of the Thunderbird as our symbol by visiting our history page.
Over the next few months, we will be posting a series of nine "Legends of the Thunderbird", which were first recorded by German anthropologist Dr. Franz Boas (1858-1942), who spent four years living with aboriginal Canadians of Canada’s pacific northwest and collecting their legends and folklore. These legends were originally published in The Thunderbird Journal, which was the official Security Branch magazine from 1982 until 1998.
We hope you enjoy reading these unique legends, and draw the same parallels between the legends of the Thunderbird and the role of the military police in Canada that ISG did in 1967.