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totem poles

   The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest Coast created carved images of spirits, mythological animals, and mythological people.  These carved images were called totems.
     Each clan had a totem that was used as a crest, which was like a symbolic family tree.  This totem crest decorated the homes of the family members.  Some of the major clans had raven, eagle, bear, and wolf totem crests, but there were also many other clans with lots of different animals for crests.
     These totems were also made into poles, which used various different carved totems to tell a myth or to show the history of a particular clan.  The wood used to make these poles was very important.  The totem poles needed to be made from either the sacred red or yellow cedar.

Totem poles had three major forms:

#1. A carved central post of the old style Haida houses.
#2. A tall, slender memorial pole.
#3. Monument for the dead.
    The most common form of totem pole is #2.  These are large poles, some as high as 75 ft.  They cost a lot of money to make, so only the extremely rich could afford them.  These rich people had them made either in honor of an event or to show their status in the clan.  First, famous carvers needed to be hired and entertained during the long months it took to carve the totem pole.  Then, once it was finished the owner of the totem pole had a huge party to celebrate and he invited all the very important people of the tribe to come.
Colors for Your Totem Pole

The things used to paint color on your totem pole are called pigments.  These pigments are mixed with oil from Salmon eggs.  The oil makes the pigments into paint.  The red paint is made with cinnabar pigment. The blue paint is made with copper salts.  The black paint is made with charcoal.  The green paint is made with algae.  The yellow color is just the
yellow cedar.  The purplish hue is made by mixing the blue and red pigments.

    Now that you have learned a bit about totem poles you can check out our bibliograohy and links to find out where to learn more, or you can create your own totem pole here on the Dragonfly Web Pages.

My Dad the Ethnobotanist Amazing Amazon Kids Totem Poles Create a Totem Pole Dragonfly Home Page

An earlier version of this page, and the create a totem pole page, were created by the following students in the Western College Program at Miami University: Megan Galagher, Binnie Martin, Todd Nadenichek, and Dan Pribble. Special thanks to Corey Sanders for his help with the create a totem pole page.

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