Totem Poles

What is a totem pole?


  • A totem is a symbolic representation of a sacred figure, object, or being,
  • In Alaska, British Columbia, and the Pacific Northwest the totem pole often serves as an emblem of family ancestry.
  • Some poles record the history and legends of their tribe.
  • Others memorialize dead clan members and may contain their ashes.
  • Shame Poles are carved to publically embarrass someone who has broken tribal rules.
  • When the sinner makes amends, the Shame Pole is taken down.
  • Welcome Poles greet newcomers to the community.
  • Many carved poles are painted using dyes from natural materials – black (coal), red (clay), green (Copper sulfide), etc.
  • Although specific meaning can differ from tribe to tribe, the most popular figures generally represent the following:

raven = the Creator

eagle = peace, friendship

whale = strength

thunderbird = power, transformation

beaver = determination

bear = guardian healer

wolf = loyalty, perseverance

frog = rebirth, cleansing


Legends of America, “Native American Totem Animals and Their Meanings,” at

Wikipedia, “Totem Poles,” at

Wonderopolis, “What Is A Totem Pole?” at



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