Young Teens. Totem poles – history and meaning.

26th March 2022

Totem poles, which are large carved and painted logs, were created by Native Americans in western Canada and the north-west of the USA.

How many animals can you see ?

As you can see, they can be very beautiful, colourful and mysterious. Totem poles are usually made from only one piece of wood, mostly from the cedar tree.

Unfortunately the rainy climate destroys the paint, so most totem poles only last about 70 years.

How tall can they be ?

The tallest one still standing is Kalama, Washington, at 140 feet tall. However, that wasn’t made by a Native American.

In Alert Bay, British Columbia, a pole is 173 feet but that is constructed from two pieces of wood.

The thickest totem pole is in Duncan, British Columbia, at over 6 feet in diameter.

Centennial Pole from 1988, in Duncan, British Columbia.

What are they for ?

Totem poles can stand outside a home, and tell the story of that family. Some are used as grave markers. The word totem means a guardian or ancestor. They are respected by the family.

The interesting figures on the poles tell stories, and each animal has a meaning.

How to read a totem pole

You can see many animals carved here:

The thunderbird is a mythical creature. The bird is said to control the weather, and it represents power.

The raven is a symbol of the Creator.

The eagle means peace and friendship.

The whale shows strength.

The snake means change, and maybe also medicine and good harvest (because snakes shed their skins).

The wolf means loyalty and family (because wolves live in packs).

The beaver means determination and creativity (because they are amazing builders).

Finally, the bear represents strength and authority but also motherhood and teaching.


What animals would you use in your country ?

Do you have any legendary or mythical creatures ?

What do these animals mean ?

Which animals are lucky ?

Four mythical creatures of Viet Nam


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