Alaska Fun Fact: Low Man on the Totem Pole

Though it may appear that the low man on the Totem Pole lacks status, odds are he was carved by the master carver to make sure most intricate and best carved figures were at eye level. Totem Poles are sculptures that tell a story carved on pillars made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, and are a traditional part of Native American culture in the Pacific Northwest.

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Ketchikan, Alaska is home to the largest collection of totems found in the world with more than 80 poles scattered throughout the city including ancient poles kept in climate controlled protection. Totems date back beyond the 1700s and contain painted carvings of animals that hold deep symbolism similar to a poem. A Totem Pole served as the emblem of a family or clan and was raised to depict family legends, animals, people, or historical events. Totem figures are not gods, and were never worshiped or used as a talisman.

 

Animal Symbols of the Pacific Northwest Totems (Manataka.org)

 

BEAVER Creative, Artistic and Determined
BEAR Strength, Learned Humility, Motherhood, Teaching
BUMBLEBEE Honesty, Pure Thinking – Willingness and Drive
COPPER Wealth and Prestige
DOGFISH Persistence and Strength – A Born Leader
DOVE Love, Gentleness and Kindness
DRAGON FLY Ever-changing Life
EAGLE Great Strength, Leadership and Prestige
EAGLE FEATHER Good Luck to Both Giver and Receiver
FROG Spring & New Life – Communicator, Stability
HALIBUT Life protector, Strength and Stability
HAWK Strength Far Sighted
HERON Patience, Graceful and Easy Going
HUMMINGBIRD Love, Beauty, Intelligence, Spirit Messenger
KILLER WHALE Traveler & Guardian – Symbol of Good
KINGFISHER Luck, Patience, Speed and Agility
LOON Peace, Tranquility – Generous Giving Nature
MOON Protector and Guardian of the Earth by Night
OTTER Trusting, Inquisitive and Bright – Loyal Friendship
OWL Wisdom
RAVEN Creation & Knowledge – Bringer of the Light
SALMON Dependability and Renewal – A Provider
SEAL Bright, Inquisitive, Organized
SUN Healing Energy, Guardian of the Earth by Day
THUNDERBIRD Powerful & Mystical – A Leader
WOLF Intelligence & Leadership – Strong Sense of Family

 

Poles can still be commissioned today for a price ranging from $25,000 – 60,000. To be considered authentic, the Totem Pole needs to be sanctioned and pass certain tests. It typically must be made by a trained Northwest Pacific Coast native, and must be raised or blessed by the Northwest Coast elders who are part of the Totem Pole tradition.

You could win a trip to see the totems of Alaska in Ketchikan! Register to give blood with Community Blood Center May 2 – September 3, 2016 and you will be automatically entered to win a trip to Alaska for two. For official rules, visit GivingBlood.org.

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