Totem Poles: Meaning and History
My knowledge of totem poles is somewhat limited. Totem poles
are large carvings made from entire trunks of trees. Native Americans
in Northwestern United States and Eastern Canada began the tradition
of carving these monuments, and different figures on the pole
represent different people or events. The practice has now become
an art form, and the use of totem poles has spread beyond the
tribes that created it.
Through researching this topic, I would like to discover the
origins, uses, significance, and meaning of totem poles. I would
like to find out if and how they are used in today's modern society.
Has the traditional value and significance of totem poles declined
with increased commercialism and misuses of the totem pole? Has
it become a widespread art form that other cultures are inheriting,
or are totem poles still a product of the Northwest Native Americans?
Most people recognize and could identify a totem pole. Few people,
however, know their true history and meaning. Anyone that has
ever wondered about the origins of these magnificent sculptures
will benefit from my research. The research may also attract those
interested in art or art history. The totem pole is a significant
Native American art form that should be included in the study
of American art.
Jensen, Vickie. Where the People Gather: Carving a Totem Pole.
University of Washington Press (1992). E99.N734 J44 1992
Shearar, Cheryl. Understanding Northwest Coast Art: A Guide to
Beings, and Symbols. Seattle: University of Washington Press (2000).
E78.N78 S446 2000
Curtis, Edward S; Quimbly, George Irving. In the Land of the War
Kwakiutl Indian Life on the Northwest coast (1992) [Video]. Available:
Milestone Film & Video  65-V3581
Edwards, Bob; Smith, Robert. (2002, September 30) History and Significance
of Totem Poles. National Public Radio [Online], 30 paragraphs.
Available: LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe. [2003, February 2]
Broom, Jack. (2002, September 26) Carving Out History: Totems Stand
Tall in New Burke Exhibit; An Exhibit at the Burke Museum Examines
the Power of Totem Poles. The Seattle Times. [Online], 8
paragraphs. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe. [2003, February2]
Maves Jr., Norm. (2002, August 24) Power of Pole Inspires Prayer.
The Oregonian. [Online], 25 paragraphs. Available: LEXIS-NEXIS
Academic Universe. [2003, February 2]
Kiers, Roger. (2002, January/February) Icon of the Northwest. Archaeology.
[Online], 5 paragraphs. Available: Infotrac. [2003, February 2]
Dearborn, Keri. (2002, April) Totem Poles. Faces. [Online],
18 paragraphs. Available: Infotrac. [2003, February 2]
Macphee, Erin Ryan. (1994, January) Totems. Arts and Activities.
[Online], 9 paragraphs. Available: Infotrac. [2003, February 2]
Title: Totem Poles of the North American Northwest Coast Indians
Web Address: http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1985/6/85.06.01.x.html
Description: Cultural overview of totem poles by Yale-New Haven
Public Schools. This is a lesson plan, yet teachers and non-teachers
alike will find the content to be of interest.
Source: Yale-New Haven Teacher's Institute
Title: Totem Poles: Heraldic Columns of the Northwest Coast
Web Address: http://content.lib.washington.edu/aipnw/wright/wright.html
Description: A scholarly account of the historical and cultural
significance of totem poles written by Dr. Robin D. Wright for the
University of Washington Digital Libraries.
Source: University of Washington
Title: The Respect to Bill Reid Pole
Web Address: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Billreidpole/english/
Description: A timeline of the work done by the late Haida carver,
Bill Reid (1920 - 1998). The timeline is rich with information regarding
the symbolism, history, and carving of the poles.
Source: UBC Museum of Anthropology
Title: Northwest Coast Totem Poles
Web Address: http://www.washington.edu/burkemuseum/nwtotem.html
Description: A website to accompany a major exhibit. Contains some
history of totem poles, useful links, myths vs. facts, and a rich
Source: Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Title: On the Totem Trail
Web Address: http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/journeys/01/jun01/totem.html
Description: A Smithsonian article that details specific facts about
the history and significance of totem poles.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine