One of the good things about coin collecting is that it offers opportunities to learn more about the designs of the coins and the history behind them. For example, in 2018, the Royal Canadian Mint released a commemorative coin featuring an important mythological figure in the cultures of Indigenous peoples across Canada and the United States: the Thunderbird.
The Thunderbird is a mythological creature that figures in the traditions of Indigenous peoples all across Canada and the United States, from the Northeast to the Plains to the Northwest. The design of the 2018 Thunderbird coin is by an artist descended from the Kwakwaka’wakw and K’omoks First Nations, Andy Everson. Therefore, its image of the Thunderbird is influenced by Northwestern traditions. The image of the Thunderbird is reminiscent of the style used in totem poles. The head bears the traditional colours of black, blue, orange, red, and yellow. The Thunderbird seems to emerge from the coin’s surface because of the engraving in high relief. There are lightning bolts behind the Thunderbird’s head to illustrate its association with those elements.
Though the Thunderbird appears in the mythology of Indigenous tribes across North America, not all First Nations view it the same way, and the stories about it vary. In some traditions, it is an ordinary but very powerful animal, while in others, it is a supernatural creature. In Northwestern cultures, it is regarded as a god that flaps its wings to make a sound like thunder to scare people away from its nest. If the thunder-like noise is not an adequate deterrent, it can roll large chunks of ice out of its cave. The Thunderbird is said to be very large and able to carry off killer whales, its favourite food.
In many legends, the Thunderbird is an ambiguous figure: sometimes beneficial to humanity and at other times hostile to it. The Kwakwaka’wakw tell a story about how their ancestors once made a deal with the Thunderbird to help them during a food crisis. The Thunderbird agreed, and in gratitude, the Kwakwaka’wakw honour it in their totem poles and other art forms.
Most legends amongst Northwestern First Nations agree that the Thunderbird makes its home up in the mountains, but not all legends put its nest in exactly the same place. The legends of the Coast Salish put it on British Columbia’s Black Tusk peak. Living south of the border in the U.S. state of Washington, the Quileute tribe tells legends of the Thunderbird living on that state’s Mount Olympus in a cave. Wherever the Thunderbird is said to live, Northwestern traditions are in consensus that it doesn’t like visitors, which is why, in the past, coastal First Nations always stayed close to the shore and gave the mountains a wide berth.
Thunderbird’s Previous Coins
The year 2018 was not the first time the Royal Canadian Mint released a coin featuring the Thunderbird. In 2014, it released another coin designed by Everson and featuring a stylized holographic image of the Thunderbird on the back. That coin was part of a series demonstrating the interconnection of all the natural realms, with the Thunderbird representing Air.
That same year, the RCM issued two other Thunderbird coins based on legends of the Ojibway people about their trickster hero Nanaboozhoo. According to tradition, Nanaboozhoo sought feathers from the Thunderbird to increase the power of his hunting arrows. Because he knew he could not collect feathers from the adult Thunderbirds, he goes to their nest and steals them from the young ones. The adult Thunderbirds return from hunting and chase Nanaboozhoo away from their nest and their offspring.
Start or Continue Coin Collecting With the 2018 Silver Thunderbird Coin
Find Thunderbird pieces and other Royal Canadian Mint coins for sale at Colonial Acres. To start or add to your collection today, visit our website.