Collected in the 1780s by British explorer Captain James Cook, this ceremonial club is one of the oldest and best-preserved artifacts of northwest Canada. Made of yew wood and stone, the club is 10 inches high and almost 10 inches wide. The handle is decorated with black human hair and inlaid with snail shells and sea otter teeth. While the bottom of the club’s handle depicts a stylized double-faced owl, the top bears a striking representation of a Thunderbird—a legendary creature that symbolizes power and strength.
According to the Nuu-cha-nult peoples who fashioned the club, Thunderbird was the most celebrated whaler and taught the dangerous but rewarding practice to humans. Whaling provided valuable resources and was a fundamental aspect of the lives of many communities in northwestern Canada. Today Thunderbird remains a celebrated figure to many native peoples.
The Thunderbird Club can be seen today at the British Museum in London, England.