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Totem Pole Meaning

A totem pole or monumental pole is a tall structure created by Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples that showcases a nation’s, family’s or individual’s history and displays their rights to certain territories, songs, dances and other aspects of their culture. Totem poles can also be used as memorials and to tell stories. Carved of large, straight red cedar and painted vibrant colours, the totem pole is representative of both coastal Indigenous culture and Northwest Coast Indigenous Art.

Animal images on totem poles depict creatures from family crests. These crests are considered the property of specific family lineages and reflect the history of that lineage. Animals commonly represented on the crests include the beaver, bear, wolf, shark, killer whale, raven, eagle, frog and mosquito. The crest animals represent kinship, group membership and identity, while the rest of the pole may represent a family’s history.

Some poles also feature supernatural beings or humans, each with their own particular importance and significance to the nation or individual who commissioned it and to the person who carved it.

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