Native Americans and Totem Poles

Native American tribes of the northwest coast, like the Haida, often built and carved totem poles as tall as 40 feet. What was the significance behind doing so?

Totem poles were a sign of wealth

Totem poles were built and placed outside homes to display families’ status, ancestry and social rank. They were a sign of wealth since they were expensive and time consuming to craft. They required a lot of manpower, which is why they were usually found outside Native American chiefs’ homes.

Totem pole symbols

Totem poles were created using pictography (writing with symbols) and pictures that depicted animals, birds, or supernaturals that were significant to the family. The unique features and colors differed depending on the clan or tribe. In order to interpret totem poles, one needed to be knowledgeable of the customs, traditions and history of the specific family or clan. The colors used weren’t just chosen at random; instead, every color and figure had special meaning. When the symbols were combined on the pole there was a sequence, story, legend or myth being shared.

A totem pole was believed to have spiritual significance and watched over the family or tribe as the guardian spirit. Totem poles weren’t worshipped, though they inspired and encouraged respect.

Many Native Americans express themselves through their artwork. Here at Kachina House, we have beautiful art created by the indigenous people of North America and we want to share them with you! Browse our products online, visit our store in Sedona, Arizona, or give us a call today at 800-304-3290 with any questions you may have!