Totem poles are an important part of the culture of Indians tribes that live in the southeastern region of Alaska and the northwestern part of the Pacific Coast. The art of totem pole-making is not practiced by other Indian tribes in North America. It is believed that the earliest totem poles were created during the 18th century, but some of the stories and legends that were represented on them might have been created thousands of years ago.
A totem pole is usually carved out of cedar, and it features interesting depictions of human and animal figures, as well as stories and scenes of everyday life. In the past, totem poles were made to serve as emblems of clans and households as well as symbols of status and lineage. They also showed a person's merits and supernatural experiences. It is said that they were first created to show appreciation for the sponsors of Potlatch ceremonies, which were very important festival celebrations for the Indians of the Northwest Pacific region.
Totem poles are not regarded as sacred objects in the Northwest Indian community because they are not used for religious purposes. They are mostly admired for their aesthetic values and meaningful depictions. Every totem pole has a different story to tell, which can range from depressing tales of lost love, material struggle, and murder to inspiring accounts of social achievements and cultural celebrations. The Northwest Indians used to erect totem poles in the past to bring shame to certain individuals and families, specifically those who have failed to pay their debts.
Many people believe that the image that is located at the uppermost part of a totem pole is the most important. However, most of the totem poles that are in existence reveal that images are placed in no particular order of preference. An important figure can be found at the top, middle, or bottom part of totem pole.