Kwakwaka’wakw Heraldic Pole

The pole, known as the Kwakwaka’wakw Heraldic Pole (pole 20122), was carved in 1952-53 by Mungo Martin, his son David Martin and his niece, Mildred Hunt. Unlike many of the other poles in Thunderbird Park, this is not a replica, but an original.

Mungo Martin designed the pole with crests representing the A̱wa̱ʼetła̱la, Kwagiulth, ‘Nak’waxda’xw and ‘Namgis people–all tribes to which he was related directly or through his wife’s family. Members of Mungo’s family always remind us that Mungo wanted everyone to feel welcome in Wawadiťła, and that this pole would stand at the entrance to make everyone feel welcome.

At the top of the pole is the Thunderbird crest of the A̱wa̱ʼetła̱la at Tsawadi, also known as Knight Inlet. Thunderbird transformed into a man and established his tribe at Tsawadi. Later, his son returned to the sky to take his father’s role of controlling thunder and lightning.

Below the Thunderbird is a figure of the Grizzly Bear holding a copper: this is one of the original ancestors of the Kwagiulth, whose village today is at Tsaxis, near what is now known as Port Hardy. Below the Grizzly Bear is the Grizzly Bear transformed into his Human Form. The copper, called t̕łaḵwa in the language of Kwakwala, is a symbol of a family’s wealth; all transactions undertaken in a potlatch are carried out under the auspices of their respective copper. Each copper has a name and a level of monetary wealth that increases each time it is potlatched.

Next is the figure of Beaver, an ancestor from the ‘Nak’waxda’xw family from one of the main villages of called Ba’as, also known as Blunden Harbour. The ‘Nak’waxda’xw people were relocated to Port Hardy in the early 1960’s and amalgamated with the Gwa’Sala people.

The bottom figure is Dzunukwa, the Wild Woman of the Woods, holding her child. This crest is from the ‘Namgis at Yalis, or Alert Bay.

By winter 2019, museum staff had identified the need to reinforce the “strong backs”—the steel support beams attached to the back side of many of the remaining poles in Thunderbird Park. Conservation work has also begun on six pole appendages—in almost all cases, the wings or beaks of figures. In December 2019, carvers Mervyn Child (Mildred Hunt’s son), Tom Child and Chief David Knox (Mungo Martin's great-grandson) met with museum staff to discuss how to begin conservation work on the Kwakwaka’wakw heraldic pole.

In January 2020, Mervyn Child and David Knox began conservation work on the pole. They laid the pole down for easier access and began removing biological growth such as moss, algae and lichen. They also removed damaged areas, including the beak of the Thunderbird figure, and attached newly carved repairs made of cedar. The next step was to integrate and protect the repaired areas by painting the pole.


However, because the pole had retained a lot of moisture over the wet winter months, it needed to dry out fully before repainting could begin. On January 28, 2020, it was moved inside the museum to Clifford Carl Hall where conservation staff gently vacuumed detritus from the pole’s surface and monitored for insects.

As a safety measure, the wings of the thunderbird figure had been removed prior to lowering the pole. When it came time to raise the pole again, the wings would be reattached using an external steel support. While the pole was lying inside Clifford Carl Hall, one wing was fitted in place so a template could be made for the steel support.

While the wings were off, David and Mervyn removed and replaced the top section of both wings, which had become soft and punky. Over the decades, water had entered the exposed end grain, resulting in rot. Removing the soft areas prevented the rot from extending further into sound wood.


When the pole was at last ready for painting, David and Mervyn welcomed family, friends, museum staff and visitors to participate—a highlight for everyone involved. On March 16, 2020, after months of conservation work, the colourful pole rose again in front of Wawadiťła (Mungo Martin House) during a ceremony on the grounds of Thunderbird Park.