Building Totem Poles | History of Totem Poles

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A totem pole is a little like a flag. Every country has its flag to represent it and the ideals for which it stands. Everyone in that country respects this flag. It is a sign of the country and the people it belongs to. When we see the American flag, we know that we are Americans, and we feel proud of our country.

The totem pole was like a flag for the many Indian tribes living along the northwest coast of Canada and Alaska. It represented the particular tribe or group, and it showed what they stood for. Besides serving as a flag, the carved heads of animals or spirits were those of their guardians, who looked after them. Their heads stood for qualities which the Indians admired and which they tried to build in themselves.

Perhaps part of the totem pole was the head of a wolf. The Indian felt that he shared the courage and daring of the wolf. Perhaps it was a fox. The Indian strove to share the fox's wisdom. Perhaps there was a bird carved on the pole. The bird would be part of the symbol of that tribe or group of families.

There was magic in the totem poles. The carved signs and figures protected the Indians from harm, just as our flag represents the country which safeguards us. Most importantly, though, it was the Indian's totem, the symbol of the group to which the Indian belonged, just as we belong to our country.