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Alaska Totem Pole Photos

Totem Pole at Sitka National Historic Park

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Totem Bight State Park
Saxman Native Totem Park Clan House Photos
Alaska Totem Pole Photos

Alaska is one of the youngest states of the Union, but its history and culture is perhaps one of the oldest. With ties to the earliest migrations of Eastern people across the Bering Land Bridge, Alaskan Natives have a unique history and it is this history that is often recorded in their totem poles. At Alaska Stock Images, you will find a wide variety of Alaska photos including Alaska Totem Pole Photos. To find more pictures of Alaska and its people and culture, visit our search page.

Eagle Totem at Bight State Park
Eagle Totem
Totem poles, tall and elaboratively carved with images of stylized people and animals, can be considered family histories. Native Alaskans did not have a written language but instead used totem poles to record the most significant events and stories of their culture. The poles served as a sort of "family crest."
Sitka National Historic Park
Tlingit Totem Pole

Similar to the Native Americans across the United States, the Native Alaskans' history begins before people lived on the earth and birds and animals spoke to each other. Some poles have carvings of the Raven who is recounted as being the "trickster" and who brought light unto the earth. Other powerful animals such as the Bear, Orca Whale, Eagle, and the Thunderbird are also frequently carved as the heads of long standing lineages.

There are many types of totem poles and reasons for creating the totem. Some memorialize a death of a loved one, others make fun of rival clans, and some are simply historical recordings. At Totem Bight State Park, Thunderer's Pole symbolizes the Thunder House people. Four brothers were changed into Thunderers. Like the

Saxman Totem Park
Saxman Totem Park

Thunderbird, they live on the mountaintops and the beating of the bird's wings, and lightening by the blink of its eyes creates thunder. At Saxman Native Totem Park, another story written through the carvings is the Rock Oyster Man Pole. This pole memorializes young man who lost his life fishing for octopus. The figure at the top is the Eagle; the lower figures are Beavers. These figures represent the clans that the young man belonged to. The bottom figure is the rock oyster. The human figure is the victim. The man drowned when the shell of a giant oyster closed upon his arm and he could not get away from the incoming tides. The two-toned human face represents his violent death.

Clan House at Saxman Totem Park
Clan House at Saxman

Although the history is not clear on how long totem poles have been made, it is certain that they have been in existence since the 18th century. However, do to the fairly quick rate of decay, removal by museums, and theft, many totem poles have been lost throughout the centuries. During the 1930's the famed "Civillian Conservation Corp" (CCC camps) collected and restored totem poles that had been abandoned in villages and created the Saxman Native Totem Park. The 24 totem poles in the park came from ancestral villages at Cape Fox and Tongass Island, Cat Island, and Pennock Island. This is the largest totem park in the world.

The 1950's saw a continued cultural revival which has led to the "re-carving" of many deteriorated poles and the creation of new ones. Telling the history of the Alaska Native peoples continues to flourish. As recently as August of 2003, well-known Master Carver, Nathan Jackson, was commissioned to design and create a totem pole for the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Master Carver, Nathan Jackson
Nathan Jackson

Books of Interest:

Alaska's Totem Poles - Author Pat Kramer considers totem poles to be "North America's most unique contribution to the world of aboriginal art." In Alaska's Totem Poles, she provides a guide to the history of totem poles and their carvers, the legends behind them, how to "read" them, customs and ceremonies, fact and fiction on totem poles, famous totem poles, and where to see them.

The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska

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