Depiction of Thunderbird painted on a drum by a Pawnee artist in the late 19th century. Photo: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy
In late 2016, after joining protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Stephanie Big Eagle designed a tattoo to help the fight. My heart was just poured into it, she recalls.
A tattooist and descendant of Dakota and Lakota Sioux, Big Eagle rendered an eagle-like figure, with tail feathers morphed into a tipi. The bird-being hovered above zigzags and dots, representing the river of life and seven bands of the Great Sioux Nation.
Within weeks, the design decorated the flesh of thousands of people from Arkansas to New Zealand. Tattoo artists around the globe offered the image and donated a portion of each sale to a GoFundMe launched by Big Eagle and Elle Festin, an international organizer for traditional Filipino tattooists.
The campaign raised more than $153,000 to support the No Dakota Access Pipeline (NoDAPL) movement and its water protectors. For nearly 10 months, these peaceful protestors maintained camps to block construction of the 1,172-mile oil pipeline that would burrow under four states and the Missouri River, threatening Indigenous land and water. In efforts to dismantle the camps, law enforcement and mercenary agents resorted to pepper spray, rubber bullets, attack dogs, arrests, and undercover spies.
Peaceful, prayerful people getting attacked, Big Eagle says. These forces that were standing up against, I wonder sometimes how human they really are.
Thats why she launched the tattoo campaign. More than a fundraiser, it was a summoning of supernatural defense: Big Eagle says the tattoo sent a prayer, a flesh offering, to the Thunderbirds, powerful spirit-beings who rule the sky and control storms. Known as wakinyan in Sioux languages, Thunderbirds are thought to protect the pure, clean and truthful from destructive, dishonorable forces.
Brothers and sisters all over the world . . . every single person who got one of these tattoos participated in that prayer, Big Eagle says.
Beyond Sioux beliefs, Thunderbirds permeate the spiritual world of widespread Native groups, including the Ojibwa of the Great Lakes region, Tlingit of the Pacific Northwest, Pawnee of the plains, and about two dozen other tribes.A database of ethnographic records collected by anthropologists includes roughly 500 references to Thunderbirds in documents describing Native cultures of the Americas.
Sometimes translated as Thunderers or Thunderbeings, the spirits particular attributes and stories vary by tribe and even family line. But certain qualities transcend cultures. Thunderbirds are generally depicted as birds of prey or avian-human hybrids, such as a person with beak and wings. Some images present the figure chest forward, head inprofile and tail feathers parted, as if they werehuman legs. More abstract versions signify Thunderbirds with X-shaped bodies, hashes for wings and hook-like heads.
Inhabiting the sky, Thunderbirds act as powerful, life-giving spirits who command storm clouds, which bring spring rains. Their eyes shoot lightning and theirwing beats issue thunder. As powers of the upper world, Thunderbirds wage perpetual war against aquatic spirits of the beneath world, often portrayed as malevolent serpents or felines.
Humans are caught in the middle of this, says Cheryl Claassen, a professor emerita of Anthropology at Appalachian State University. For example, some Native people explain certain lightning strikes as a result of the rivalry: Thunderbirds shot bolts at trees because their underworld adversaries were lurking in the branches.
A lot of human ritual is directed at deflecting this warfare . . . setting up safe spaces, explains Claassen, who researches archaeological evidence for Native belief systems. The rituals often include feasts and offerings to please Thunderbirds and other spirit-beings.
Many people view Thunderbirds as protectors. For Sioux, Thunderbirds are one of our celebrated, sacred beings that we work with, Stephanie Big Eagle says. That means the spirits will intervene on behalf of earthly people, but also expect veneration, prayers, and giftsincluding flesh offerings like tattoos.
Past these basic descriptions, Thunderbird beliefs cannot be fully expressed to outsiders. In part, this is because non-Native people lack the necessary perspectives to grasp the information.
To totally understand it, I usually tell people, Do you have a lifetime? What you're asking about, you'll have to come live here, says Navajo Nation citizen William Tsosie. The knowledge needs to be seen in the bigger context, in the larger scheme of things.
Now an archaeologist for the Navajo Nation Heritage and Historic Preservation Department, Tsosie learned about Thunderbirds as a child from his grandparents. In everyday conversations, they imparted stories that explained how the world works and came to be. Everything was a story. The corrals, where the sun rose, just the whole cultural landscape around you, he says. Thunderbirds figured into these oral histories, and their deeds are embedded in the landscape.
Tsosie offered one example about a past battle between Navajo and Ute people. Thunderbird, came in a flash and had a sonic boom, he says. Thanks to the spirits intervention, the warring parties made peace. To this day, the spot is called Thunderbird Perch, and marked by a ponderosa pine and fir tree, rooted together.
There are aspects of Thunderbird beliefs that Tsosie doesnt share for another reason: The knowledge can be consideredprivileged and powerful. There are some beautiful ceremonial stories associated with it, but we dont speak of those that have power, he explains.
Within Native communities, this information is typically limited to individuals with proper spiritual preparation. And spreading specifics beyond Indigenous people is often prohibited. Representatives from several Native groups, including the Shawnee and Potawatomi, stated that it would be inappropriate to discuss details about Thunderbirds publically. They recommended ethnographies and other written sources for descriptions suitable for un-inducted ears.
Archaeologist David Dye, who is not of Native heritage, respects the confidential nature of Thunderbird mythology. This is based on his experiences working with tribes like the Choctaw, who have helped him interpret archaeological finds. According to Dye, Thunderbird and other sacred stories are not campfire tales, meant to entertain. They are more like instruction manuals for working with natural and supernatural forces.
The knowledge is secretive because its dangerous, he says.
Still, some conception of Native beliefs is critical for archaeologists because they come across relicts, which can help discern the ancient roots of Thunderbird traditions. At sites spanning the past 4,000 years, researchers have found Thunderbird images adorning rock surfaces, animal hides, pebbles, and pottery. Theyve also uncovered figurines, pendants, and copper cutouts shaped like the avian spirits.
To make sense of this evidence, scholars rely on information volunteered by contemporary Native people, colonial-era documents, and ethnographies by anthropologists of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
However, Dye cautions about the veracity of written sources penned by European colonizers and European-descent scholars. These records contain stories told by Native informants, who deliberately gave redacted renditions, full of euphemisms and analogies. And those versions were further filtered through the scribes minds.
As a result, when you sit down to read a Shawnee story about the Thunderers, its so watered down from what it would have meant to the people who originally told it, he says.
But even such diluted data provides clues that help archaeologists interpret otherwise inscrutable finds. For example, dozens of broken ceramic pieces surfaced at sites in northern Michigan near where Lakes Michigan and Huron meet. The artifacts were crafted between 600 and 1600 AD by ancestors of Ojibwa and other Anishinaabeg people. Now just broken bitsno bigger than chess pawns, the pieces could have easily been ignored by archaeologists. However, thanks to their awareness of Anishinaabeg beliefs, researchers spotted Thunderbirds wing, a serpents head, and other parts of spirit-beings among the fragments. It seems the pieces once formed figurines, made to placate the spirits, according to an American Antiquity study published earlier this year.
Another recent paper, in Quaternary International, reported a cache of Bald Eagle bones discovered at a 2000-year-old site on the island of Marthas Vineyard, Massachusetts. Drawing on documented Algonquin beliefs, archaeologists contend that the bird bones were part of a ceremonial feast related to Thunderbird veneration.
Tying present practices to ancient remains suggests Native people have honored Thunderbirds as protective spirits for millennia. Its likely Thunderbird tattoos extend back just as long. Needles used for tattooing have been recovered from numerous archaeological sites, and a 1710 AD portrait shows a Mohican chief with four Thunderbird tattoos on his face.
Those who got tattoos in support of Standing Rock joined this long tradition. I think people knew deep in their hearts, even if they dont understand our ceremonial ways, Big Eagle says. They offered their skin to Thunderbirds, asking the spirits to protect Native people against destructive forces.
The rest is here:
- 10 of the best talented Calgary tattoo artists to get inked by | Curated - Daily Hive - March 8th, 2021
- CURTIS HONEYCUTT: With friends like these ... | Features | albanyherald.com - The Albany Herald - February 17th, 2021
- Stephen Bear branded sick by fans for pretending girlfriend was pregnant with twins with scan ripped off Goo - The Sun - February 10th, 2021
- Local tattoo shops see increase in business as the COVID-19 pandemic continues - The Morning Sun - February 7th, 2021
- Nagaland Locals Shift House On Foot, Watch Video: Trending Topics, Viral Videos and Funny Memes of The Day - LatestLY - February 7th, 2021
- Justice League's Snyder Cut Is Fixing The Most Hated Part Of Leto's Joker - Screen Rant - February 4th, 2021
- Anderson: Sarasota fugitive still running, only now the chase is on to catch him - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - January 30th, 2021
- Married teacher found guilty of having sex with student in a field - Yahoo News Australia - January 30th, 2021
- 23 Fun Long Nail Designs to Copy in 2021 - The Trend Spotter - January 30th, 2021
- One Of The Proud Boys Who Stormed The Capitol Had Instructions For Making Guns And Bombs In His Home, FBI Says - BuzzFeed News - January 30th, 2021
- These Amazing Quilters Will Inspire You To Take Up A New Pandemic Hobby - HuffPost Canada - January 30th, 2021
- Tattoo industry striving to safely ink their way through pandemic - KXXV News Channel 25 - January 25th, 2021
- Former Xbox, SEGA, And EA Head Peter Moore Returns To Gaming - Screen Rant - January 22nd, 2021
- Feds: Man arrested near US Capitol had truckload of weapons - Daily Mountain Eagle - January 15th, 2021
- Tattoo artists share 6 of their favorite designs to ink, and 5 they don't really like - Yahoo News - January 12th, 2021
- US Capitol riot: the myths behind the tattoos worn by 'QAnon shaman' Jake Angeli - The Conversation UK - January 12th, 2021
- The Myths Behind the Tattoos Worn by 'QAnon Shaman' Jake Angeli - Snopes.com - January 12th, 2021
- Khanyi Mbaus racy tattoo has got the timeline buzzing - All4Women - January 12th, 2021
- Records: Alabama man on bond arrested after Capitol riot - Daily Mountain Eagle - January 12th, 2021
- How Memorial Tattoos Can Help With The Grieving Process - HuffPost - January 9th, 2021
- A radish in a tutu walking a dog? This AI can draw it really well - ABC17News.com - January 9th, 2021
- Stefflon Don Shows Off Upper Thigh Tattoo In Gucci Swimsuit During Ghana Vacation - The Inquisitr - January 9th, 2021
- George Gerdes, Bosch and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo actor, dies at 72 - Yahoo Entertainment - January 5th, 2021
- Taking a look at the Most Useful Android Apps - Programming Insider - January 5th, 2021
- Suspects charged in connection with Steelton shooting - PennLive - January 5th, 2021
- Skin in the game: why getting a tattoo helped me achieve my goals - The Guardian - January 3rd, 2021
- How the Networks Will Fill Airtime on a Quiet New Years Eve - The New York Times - December 31st, 2020
- Why Werent We All Invited To Neymars New Years Eve Party? - The18 - December 31st, 2020
- Mars is revealing its angel, devil and heart "tattoos" as ice melts at its south pole - SYFY WIRE - December 27th, 2020
- Turn Your RPG Character's Into Inked Showcases With The Tome of Mystical Tattoos - TheGamer - December 27th, 2020
- Bloke asks for his mums advice on what tattoo to get and takes her answer WAY too seriously - The Irish Sun - December 23rd, 2020
- Bloke asks for his mums advice on what tattoo to get and takes her answer WAY too seriously - The Sun - December 21st, 2020
- Cyberpunk 2077: The Face Tattoos, Ranked - TheGamer - December 17th, 2020
- The 25 Best Latin Songs of 2020: Staff Picks - Billboard - December 17th, 2020
- Cardi B Is Being Sued For The Use Of A Tattoo On Her Album Cover - mit inc - December 12th, 2020
- This Mom Tattooed Her Toddler & We're Actually On Board With It - Yahoo Lifestyle - December 12th, 2020
- Inked for The Very First Time: Madonna shares behind-the-scenes photos of first tattoo at 62 - The Independent - December 9th, 2020
- Keke Palmer Showcases Upper Thigh Tattoo In Tiny Plaid Dress & Leather Knee-High Boots - The Inquisitr - December 8th, 2020
- Sophie Turner shares a never-before-seen photo with Joe Jonas from her pregnancy - Insider - INSIDER - December 6th, 2020
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic Or Memphis Depay Or Sergio Ramos: Whos Got The Best Tattoo On Their Back? - IWMBuzz - December 3rd, 2020
- Oliver Peck Net Worth | What is Tattoo Artist Oliver Peck's Net Worth? - The Cinemaholic - December 2nd, 2020
- Through Positive Eyes: living with HIV and Aids - a photo essay - The Guardian - December 1st, 2020
- A Life On Our Planet: 10 Behind The Scenes Facts You Need To Know - Screen Rant - November 27th, 2020
- Lockdown-defying tattoo shop raided for second time as owner wrongly cites Magna Carta - The Samford Crimson - November 27th, 2020
- EndSARS Protester Inscribes Tattoo On His Chest To Commemorate The Killing Of Nigerians At The Lekki Toll Gate (Photos) - GH Gossip - November 21st, 2020
- Born into occupation, young Afghans fear the Taliban will crush their freedoms when US troops exit - The Bakersfield Californian - November 21st, 2020
- David Fincher: Studios don't want to make anything that can't make billions - FOX 28 Spokane - November 20th, 2020
- BEST PLACES TO GET TATTOOS ON YOUR BODY - Artvoice - November 16th, 2020
- David Fincher: Studios don't want to make anything that can't make billions - lcbcradio.com - November 16th, 2020
- Family Fun: Rocking joy into the world with vibrantly painted rocks - The Spokesman-Review - November 16th, 2020
- The Inconclusive World of Tattoos in the Workplace - Fordham Observer - November 12th, 2020
- Police issue CCTV images of three men over incident on train via Dalmuir - Clydebank Post - November 12th, 2020
- Images released of men after rammy on board Glasgow train - Glasgow Times - November 11th, 2020
- 'I'd been avoiding looking at myself': Breast cancer survivors reveal how mastectomy tattoos changed them - 7NEWS.com.au - November 11th, 2020
- Red Notice: Ryan Reynolds Edits Young Versions of Him & Dwayne Johnson Into Image - Screen Rant - October 31st, 2020
- The Weeknd Likes to Keep a Lot of Things a Mystery Potential Tattoos Included - POPSUGAR - October 30th, 2020
- MAGNUM To Release Special Album, Dance Of The Black Tattoo, In January - bravewords.com - October 24th, 2020
- Images released of suspect in four North York break-and-enters - Toronto Sun - October 23rd, 2020
- 25 Carefree Bird Tattoos for Men in 2020 - The Trend Spotter - October 16th, 2020
- Before They Were Tatted: 10 Rockers Before + After Their Tattoos - Loudwire - October 14th, 2020
- Perthshire farm worker posing as teen rumbled in online paedophile trap by tattoo of his own name - The Courier - October 10th, 2020
- 20 Unforgettable Moon Tattoos for Women in 2020 - The Trend Spotter - October 9th, 2020
- V,I, Council on the Arts celebrated Arts and Humanities Month - Virgin Islands Daily News - October 9th, 2020
- First fossil feather found belonged to this dinosaur - Deccan Herald - October 6th, 2020
- True Meaning behind Paris Jackson & Godfather Macaulay Culkin's Matching Spoon Tattoos - AmoMama - October 6th, 2020
- Artists Quarantine With Their Art Collections - Hyperallergic - October 4th, 2020
- Survivors, First Responders Use Tattoos To Cover Scars From The Route 91 Shooting - KNPR - October 2nd, 2020
- First Fossil Feather Ever Found Belonged to This Dinosaur - The New York Times - September 30th, 2020
- Dolly Parton Addresses Those Tattoo Rumors, Reveals the Moving Reason Behind Her Tasteful Ink - Yahoo Entertainment - September 24th, 2020
- Chinese city orders taxi drivers to remove tattoos (for the women and children) - bdnews24.com - September 24th, 2020
- Chinese city orders taxi drivers to remove tattoos for the women and children - Deccan Herald - September 22nd, 2020
- People are getting coronavirus-themed tattoos of masks, toilet paper - Insider - INSIDER - September 20th, 2020
- Surveillance Images Show Denver Burglar Who Has 25 Tattooed On Forehead - CBS Denver - September 18th, 2020
- The Black Lives Matter Movement Will Change the Future of Tattooing - Yahoo Lifestyle - September 10th, 2020
- Conroe man hit with huge 60-year sentence - Woodlands Online - September 9th, 2020
- Daytonian of the Week lets her artwork tell the story it wants to communicate - dayton.com - September 9th, 2020
- Artist selected to paint mural on Garrett City Hall - KPCnews.com - September 8th, 2020
- How to deal with your negative inner voice when running - The Irish Times - September 7th, 2020
- Jada Kingdom Shows Off Tattoo Of Boyfriends Name On Her Neck - DancehallMag - September 6th, 2020
- Jungkook Reveals New Tattoo With Meaning That Warms The BTS Army's Hearts - Talent Recap - September 2nd, 2020