Totem poles are fascinating and mysterious symbols of Pacific Northwest Native American cultures. Totem poles are very tall statues carved from large, mostly Western Red Cedar trees. Totem poles exist primarily in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and British Columbia areas. Symbols were constructed primarily by Northwest Coast tribal groups including the Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Haida, Tsimshian and Chilkat.
Whimsical and Authentic
The first totem poles were carved from mature cedar and used by family-clans in Potlatch ceremonies. The word totem comes from the Ojibwe language word "odoodem" which means "his kinship group," or brother, sister, kin. Each totem pole contains designs and symbols that are carved emblems of the chief's family and tell a story to remind members of their family history. The totem pole is carved and painted with family or clan emblems, crests and figures which represent mythic beings. It is generally erected in front of or near a dwelling. Often the meanings of the symbols and story they told were known only by the members of the particular clan or the artist.
Pacific Northwest Totem Pole
Many cultures have totem like statues and icons but the purposes for these carved poles are different than with the Pacific Northwest poles. Polynesian statues are generally referred to as tikis. Other cultures such as the Zuni and Navajo, Pueblo people also have the Skin Walkers Legend, which are people who are believed to have the ability to transform into animal form.
Historic Designs to Mix and Match
Totem pole traditions include historic stories about member of clans and families and adventures of the family. For more about indigenous American designs and craft kits & supplies and information visit the Totem Pole resources page for some great, educational web sites.