The Spirit of the Thunderbird
The Thunderbird Beliefs: The Ojibway believed the thunder to be a great massive bird called a thunderbird, whose eyes shoot out lightning and thunder. The first thunder in early spring was something good to hear, for the Ojibway welcomed their protector again from its home in the south where it had been all the winter. Offerings of tobacco were placed on the ground or on water or put into the stove to burn, or sacred pipes were smoked by the elders to the thunderbird in the early spring.
It is known among the Ojibway that the thunderbirds had a huge nest on the mountains of the earth and large blankets of clouds were always seen to cover the nest. Although the thunderbird was never seen to come and go from its nest, it was known to be there. Lightning and thunder were heard only at these places. At Lake Nipigon in the olden times there was a mountain across the old Sand Point Indian Reserve where the thunderbirds had a nest made of stones that was always seen by the Ojibway. No one ever went to find out what was really up there but Indians did not need to find out, for the Ojibway knew it was the thunderbird and considered that place sacred. About thirty years before the coming of the white man into that area of Lake Nipigon the blanket of clouds seen at the mountain began to lift and moved away forever, and the Ojibway saw a huge nest. Later that summer the thunderbirds destroyed every trace of the place and pretty nearly levelled half the mountain in order to leave no evidence.
I was told that the thunderbirds were believed to have a great nest on one of the mountains by Lake Superior. Some eighty-five years ago two young boys started to climb this mountain to find out if a thunderbird really was there although they had been told never to go up that mountain. When they got to the top they saw big newly hatched birds who were still hairy and whose eyes blinked light like flashes of lightning. The frightened boys ran down the hill and told what they had seen. An Indian who in his youth had seen these boys died at Heron Bay some years ago. Later this same story was told to me by a relative who said that the birds moved away, where it is not known. Huge stone nests of these majestic birds are still seen in some parts of Ontario. One is located in Manitoba, another in the Deer Lake area in the wilderness north of Red Lake.
Legends of My People the Great Ojibway
Illustrated and told by Norval Morriseau – A Great Native Artist
- Essence Publishing, February 2012
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