Types of totem poles
Totem poles evoked the tribe’s myths and legends, so rich in supernatural phenomena, as well as its religion, political organization and social hierarchy. The sculptors’ symbolism was based on local wildlife like the eagle, raven, frog, orca, grizzly or wolf, as well as on mythical creatures like the Thunderbird and the Strong Man. The moon, stars, mirages and rainbows might also be represented. Totem poles were the clan’s exclusive property.
There were different types of totem poles. The poles in these pictures had been erected to honour chiefs who had died. Some poles were undoubtedly raised by the newly rich or powerful, who wanted to show their status. Others were used to condemn public figures who had not fulfilled an obligation to the tribe, most often white men.
Mortuary totem poles consisted of a pillar on top of which was placed a box containing the ashes of the dead person.
Heraldic totems (poles indicating identity, status and history) were positioned in the centre of a building façade and hollowed out at the base to serve as a doorway.
Totem poles also served as support pillars for the building framework.