Living Green Olympia: Totem Poles in the Pacific NW

Totem Poles in the Pacific NW


Totem Poles in Tumwater, WA

I am fascinated with the artwork and cultural heritage displayed in the totem poles here in the Pacific Northwest.  There are a number of them around Olympia & Tumwater, each with different creatures featured.  Traditionally totem poles have been sculptures created by the regional Indian tribes from large trees - often cedar as it is, and was historically, plentiful in this region.  Carved into the wooden poles are images of animals, birds, fish - symbols that the totem pole creator found important or that illustrate a story.  The word "totem" was apparently derived from the Ojibwe word "odoodem" meaning "his kinship group".


Totem pole in Tumwater Falls Park

I've read varying theories on whether the vertical order of the sculpted symbols goes from top to bottom in order of importance - but it is likely that we got our saying of "low man on the totem pole" from the idea that the most important totem was at the top.


Totem pole at 4th Ave bridge in Olympia

Many Native American legends speak of animal guides that are connected to an individual to guide them through life.  It's possible that the totem pole carvings represent the animal guides of the person carving the pole.  There is an interesting description of these animal guides that matches animals and their meanings in legends of America.


Totem pole at State Capitol in Olympia

The history of these totem poles and those who carve them gives us another special link to the past here in the Pacific Northwest!




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Comment balloon 0 commentsNancy Conner • June 02 2010 12:25PM