Wakinyan or the Thunderbird is an important and mythological figure in many North American folktales, stories and cultural traditions.
Wakinyan is described as a giant bird, much like a raven in coloring but often with some aspects resembling an eagle. The Thunderbird of the Plains and mid-western Amerindian cultures is often associated with the months of summer while on the Northwestern coast, the mythic figure is often depicted holding a killer whale grasped in its talons. The Thunderbird is a mythic figure, inspiring many different forms of artwork and oral stories. Uniquely to the Amerindian tribes of the Northwest Coast of United States and Canada, the Thunderbird can be a symbol or totem associated with specific families or kinship ties. This is how the Thunderbird is often depicted on totem poles. The mythology and legends surrounding the Thunderbird are as different as the Amerindian tribes associated with the mythic creature. To the indigenous cultures surviving on the Plains and mid-western regions of the United States, the Thunderbird was associated with the summer storms, the giant wings of the Thunderbird caused the claps of thunder during a storm while the bright silver eyes were the source of lightning. The Thunderbird was also associated and invoked during ceremonies and dance relating to warfare.
In the nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance tradition became sacred among many indigenous North American cultures. A drum, created by the indigenous Pawnee man George Beaver in 1891, was part of the sacred Ghost Dance movement. The drum depicts the Thunderbird as a harbinger of war showing the bird descending from a storm bringing with it war and battle. Many of the tales, poems and dances about the Thunderbird associate the storm-bringing mythical being with the approach of warfare and the bringer of battle.