Totem Poles- northwest Coast


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Totem Poles- Northwest Coast


1. An online picture story of the first totem pole.

Also- tells about what low man on totem pole means.
Are there secrets hidden in totem poles?

Because Native people had no written language, totem pole stories and symbols were shared only with the pole's owner, the carver of the totem pole and whoever they chose to tell.

If the pole's owner or carvers gave an account to a relative, granted interviews to academics, or left a written record, then the meaning of these old totem poles is known today. If the carver lived long ago and someone did not write it down in a form like we do, then its stories were repeated from person to person. This is called the oral tradition. While it's not the worst way of remembering, it is certainly subject to changes and distortions over time. An old undocumented totem pole with hidden or special meanings may find that it's story is lost or at least distorted over time.

2. Great information along with symbols to use for the poles.



Creative, Artistic and Determined


Strength, Learned Humility, Motherhood, Teaching


Honesty, Pure Thinking - Willingness and Drive


Wealth and Prestige


Persistence and Strength - A Born Leader


Love, Gentleness and Kindness


Ever-changing Life


Great Strength, Leadership and Prestige


Good Luck to Both Giver and Receiver


Spring & New Life - Communicator, Stability


Life protector, Strength and Stability


Strength Far Sighted


Patience, Graceful and Easy Going


Love, Beauty, Intelligence, Spirit Messenger


Traveler & Guardian - Symbol of Good


Luck, Patience, Speed and Agility


Peace, Tranquility - Generous Giving Nature


Protector and Guardian of the Earth by Night


Trusting, Inquisitive and Bright - Loyal Friendship




Creation & Knowledge - Bringer of the Light


Dependability and Renewal - A Provider


Bright, Inquisitive, Organized


Healing Energy, Guardian of the Earth by Day


Powerful & Mystical - A Leader


Intelligence & Leadership - Strong Sense of Family

2. Pictures of real totem poles:

3. Questions to ask the kids to help them figure out what animals to use. There is a larger list of animal symbols too.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering what your animal totem is:

  • Have you ever felt drawn to one animal or another without being able to explain why? This could be animal, including birds and insects.

  • Does a certain kind of animal consistently appear in your life? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical appearance, it could be represented in other ways such as receiving card and letters with the same animal pictured over and over, unexplainable dreams of a particular animal, watching television and seeing the same animal featured time and time again, or, actually having the animal show up.

  • When you go to the zoo, a park, wildlife area, or forest, what are you most interested in seeing?

  • Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?

  • Is there a particular animal that you see frequently when you’re out in nature?

  • Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal?

  • Have you ever had a recurring dream about a certain animal, or a dream from childhood that you have never been able to forget?

  • Are you drawn to figurines or paintings of a specific animal?


Make totem poles to tell about your family history.

  1. Research what animals represents your family.

  2. Wrap a piece of construction paper around a paper towel tube and trim the paper to the right height and width (allow about a half inch overlap around the tube). Do not glue yet.
  3. Color and cut out the face (see separate page). Paste it at the center top of the tube.

  4. Divide the rest of the paper into how many horizontal sections you want. 3-5

  5. Draw or paste different animal heads in each section.

  6. Wrap the heads around the paper tube and glue seams.

  7. Decorate wings, then cut them out and glue to the back of the pole.

  8. Glue 2 popsicle sticks to the base so that your Totem pole stands upright.


Have them choose:
You are your family live in the Kwakiutl clan in the Northwest Coast. It is 1740, the year before you had first contact with European settlers. You have finally finished your totem pole which tells the history of you and your family.

  1. Although telling of the story behind the totem pole is usually a secret, you decide to write a letter to your cousin telling him/her about the meaning of your totem pole. Use your Indian name!


  1. You are giving a Potlatch to honor the raising of your totem pole outside your home. Think of two other events that will happen at your potlatch. Using transition words like, first, next, last, tell the story of these 3 things that happened that day.

Beat a drum as student present their writing.


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