Photographs of Totem Poles

The Totems of Ketchikan

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The totem artworks of the first peoples of Southeast Alaska, coastal British Columbia, and western Washington are among the most powerful art forms in the world.

These beautiful creations can be found in the historic communities of the first peoples of these regions, including modern-day Ketchikan, Alaska. The Tlingit and Haida Tribes call this area home, and their cultural, economic, social, and totem art traditions are alive and well, amazing visitors from around the world.

I visited Ketchikan several times during my six-year stay in Alaska from 2004 through 2010, when I worked for the Consulate of Canada, Anchorage.

I had forgotten I had these images until I accidentally found them in an old digital archive. I wanted to bring them out of the shadows and into the light.

These images date from 2007, so the totems since that time have been weathered by the relentless rain and moisture of that beautiful, soggy corner of North America.

If you visit, Ketchikan, by ferry or on the Alaska Marine Highway, you can find the totems at the Clans Totem Circle, at the Totem Heritage Center for historic poles safeguarded in climate-controlled protection, and at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.

To understand the meaning of this intricate artwork, the myths, and the natural world that inspired these magnificent creations, you should first understand the stories of those who created them. Try exploring the stories about Alaska’s Tlingit and Haida peoples.

The official site of the Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska provides a great resource on the priorities and heritage of the first people’s of Southeast Alaska. I hope you get a chance to visit Ketchikan and the other communities where these cultural traditions continue to thrive.


The raven and the frog, Tlingit totem

At Sitka National Historic Park, site of a historic battle between invading Russian fur traders and their Native allies against the Native residents of the Tlingit band, amazingly beautiful totems are on display, old and new. Artists keep the tradition alive and carve on-site. This is one of my favorite places in the entire world, and I hold the raven with deep regard, like the Tlingit residents who lived here for thousands of years before. (See more pictures from the Great Land on my Alaska gallery.)

Editor’s note: I have corrected my description of the totem carving after hearing from an apprentice who worked in Sitka at the carving studio at the historic park. I had incorrectly identified one of two animals; I have corrected that calling it the frog.