Overview : The Totem Trail showcases totem poles that reproduce those donated by SE Alaska Native leaders to be exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis... more »
The Totem Trail showcases totem poles that reproduce those donated by SE Alaska Native leaders to be exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis... more » World’s Fair and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition. After exhibiting the poles Alaska Governor Brady sent the poles to Sitka where they were erected in the “government park”, now Sitka National Historical Park. Many of the poles now standing along the park’s wooded trails are replicas of the originals collected by Governor Brady. The original totem poles that have survived are now conserved and exhibited in Totem Hall at the park visitor center. A number of new poles, including the 2011 Centennial Pole commemorating the park's 100th birthday, have been added in recent years.
Descriptions of totem poles were taken from the park's cell phone tour, which can be accessed at 1-866-387-1112. The totem pole numbers in this guide correspond to those used by the cell phone tour. less «
Tips: Bring a raincoat--it rains a lot in Sitka. Bring your camera, you'll need that too.
Yaadaas Crest Corner Pole Fragments
The carving of bone, wood, and stone is an ancient and distinctive art among the people of the Northwest Coast. Their love of beauty may first have been expressed by the carving of utilitarian objects such as ladles, bowls, and boxes, and later developed into the monumental totem poles. It is believed the... More earliest “totem poles” were structural interior house posts; next to be developed may have been posts at the exterior corners of clan houses. Detached, exterior poles reached their zenith in the late 19th century.
These 2 fragments of a Kaigani Haida pole from Old Kaasaan on Prince of Wales Island represent well that tradition. These are original pieces of 1 of the 2 Yaadaas clan crest corner poles brought to the park in 1906. This pole originally stood at 23’ and along with its twin, stood at the exterior corners of the Yaadaas clan house.
Like a number of poles in the Park, they were first shipped to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, MO and then on to the 1905 Lewis and Cark Exposition in Portland, OR before being brought to Sitka in 1906 and erected in the Park. Photographic evidence shows that the poles were carved before 1885.
To the right of the doors you can see at the top the weary watchman, ever vigilant over the members of the village. Below him is Raven. On the left side of the doors is a bear which was the base figure of the pole.
The original twin of this pole is on exhibit in Totem Hall in the visitor center.
Replicas of both the 1st twin and the 2nd twin stand outside farther along the Totem Loop Trail.
These poles, carved out of highly rot resistant red cedar wood, will continue to stand, continue to tell their stories, and continue to display the historical and current power of the clan and crest.Less
Totem poles stand through time recalling past events. As you begin your journey at the entrance to the temperate rainforest, you are a witness in another time. You will experience some of the skills of these creative and talented artists, of their forest and ocean world, and of their respect for every living thing in it.
... More You are first seeing a Kaigani Haida crest pole from Klinkwan on south Prince of Wales Island.
Note the 4 rings underneath the top figure indicating that the person who commissioned the pole was of high standing. The original pole had 5 rings; this indicates he had hosted 5 potlatches when poles were raised! Many guests would have been invited to witness the events.
Other figures portrayed as heraldic emblems are Raven and possibly a bear.
Many techniques to preserve the totem poles in this park have been experimented with over the years. Since they were originally placed in the Park in 1906, records indicate that many of the poles have been patched with insert work, rotted surfaces have been trimmed away, and the poles at various times have received fresh coats of paint, all in the interest of lengthening the lives of the poles. This pole has undergone all the attempts at preservation.
This replica pole was carved by 2 local Native Civilian Conservation Corps carvers. Descendants of these carvers still reside in Sitka today, and they, too, are witnesses to history.Less
Yaadaas Crest Corner Pole--The First Twin
Mysteries abound throughout life. Some are solved with ready answers. Others have theories that are continually tested. Others will never have answers.
Such is the case for the Yaadaas Crest Corner Poles. Two seemingly identical poles stood at the exterior front corners of the Yaadaas clan house in... More Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. This was uncommon. And it is the only set known to exist.
More baffling are the questions, “Did one person carve the two poles?” “Is it possible to have 2 different carvers come up with the same finished product?”
With the addition of replicas of the twins completed by three different artists in 1978 and 1982, and with the designs being the same, it is easier to see the known artists of today executing the same design with an individual touch. It is possible that two different carvers produced the original twin corner poles. Is it probable??
This pole is believed to be a crest pole portraying the heraldic emblems of the Yaadaas clan of the Kaigani Haida. The human figure at the top is the Village Watchman. Below the Watchman is Raven in human form. The next figure is also Raven, while the base figure appears to be a bear holding an animal in its mouth. The figures below the Watchman may be crests of the clan who owned the house, and could represent incidents in the real or mythical history of the clan.Less
A totem pole carver is a professional artist, and depending upon his excellence in the craft, his reputation could spread throughout the region. Totem pole carving was traditionally the responsibility of a select group of craftsmen who have been formally trained in an apprenticeship system. A totem is carved by an artist of a clan... More opposite the clan of the person who commissions it. It was not uncommon for a Haida carver to be commissioned by a Tlingit, or vice versa.
This is most likely a crest pole. The top figure is a man, perhaps the Village Watchman or the pole’s owner. Next is a wolf, recognized by his pointed ears. The bottom figure is salmon.
The figures on this reproduction pole from the Kaigani Haida village of Howkan near Prince of Wales Island are very life-like and distinct as compared with the highly interconnected and overlapping design of many Haida poles. The Tlingit poles usually have figures isolated from one another and present a more rounded and sculpted appearance.
South POW Island and the smaller nearby islands are still occupied by both Tlingits and Haidas. Cultural interchange could have occurred through travel, trade, war, intermarriages or other means of diffusion. The original pole has been preserved and now stands in Totem Hall in the visitor center as a testament to the craftsman in cedar.Less
Cormorant Memorial or Mortuary Pole
Memorial and mortuary columns were common pole types found in Southeast Alaska. Memorial poles, along with house posts, are among the oldest forms of totem poles.
There seems to be a fine distinction between memorial and mortuary poles. The mortuary pole was an actual internment, while the memorial pole was ... Morea column of remembrance. In some instances, a memorial pole was raised to honor a living person.
In earlier days, the dead were sometimes cremated. The backside of a mortuary column often had a hole used as a receptacle for the ashes of the dead. A mortuary column was usually topped by a single figure indicating the moiety or the clan of the person interred.
The similarities in construction and appearance of these two types of poles make it difficult to determine their original purpose.
Though the totem at the top of this column is similar to Raven in form, the feathers actually portrayed on the back of the head and wings and the length of the beak suggest a cormorant. Compare this bird to the Raven memorial pole farther along on the Totem Loop Trail.
This pole is a reproduction carved in 1979. The original pole now stands in Totem Hall in the visitor center.Less
It seems all cultures had a way of instructing timeless lessons on life through stories. The Tlingit Raven/Shark legend is edified through this pole.
In ancient times, Raven came to a large village under the ocean. There he saw a very nice looking lady. The longer he watched her, the more beautiful she became. He could not... More take his eyes off of her. A little boy ran by the fire, and Raven called him over. “Who is that woman? I want to talk to her. I want to marry her.” When the lady received the message she cried, and told Raven that she would like to marry him, but she was ashamed of her body as her rough skin and form were that of a shark. Her face was her only beautiful feature. Raven replied, “Beauty is nothing. I look for inner beauty that radiates from your face.” She married Raven soon after.
Chief Tom of the Tlingit village of Klawock on Prince of Wales Island donated the original pole to the people of Alaska. It was initially carved for his wife from the Kaagwaantaan clan whose crests are represented on the pole.
In addition to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, this pole was part of the New York World’s Fair in 1964. By 1978 the pole had seriously decayed and was replaced with this copy. The original, minus the bottom figure, is currently exhibited at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. The original base figure is now exhibited in Totem Hall in the visitor center.
A bear, used as a base figure often time symbolizes that the story had its origin at the beginning of time. Do you know of any old fables with a similar message that has transcended time?Less
Yaadaas Crest Corner Pole—Second Twin
A figure of the Village Watchman at the top is unique to Haida crest poles and has no significance or relationship to the crests. It was intended to let the people know that they were being watched over and will be protected.
The clan chief’s hat worn by the Watchman is often mistakenly thought to be the... More high-crowned silk hat of 19th century fashion. This error also leads to the conclusion that the figure of the Village Watchman represents either President Lincoln or his Secretary of State William H. Seward who brokered the purchase of Alaska.
The carved hat worn by the Town Watchman is intended to represent the conical chief’s hat that was carved of wood or woven of spruce roots and topped by a series of rings carved into the wood or cylinders woven of spruce roots and attached such that the cylinders swayed as the wearer of the hat danced. Each cylinder or ring indicates the number of potlatches that have been given. The greater the number of cylinders on the chief’s hat, the greater the status of the clan.
As on pole #3 (this pole’s twin on Totem Loop Trail), the crests on this pole include Raven sitting in human form below the Watchman, representing the lineage of the family which owned the pole. Below is Raven as the bird raven, and finally the bear at the bottom which holds an animal in its mouth.Less
Trader Legend Pole
The events in our lives are often shaped by conflicts that need to be resolved.
The ridicule pole served to resolve conflicts through peer pressure and was non-violent. It was erected to notify everyone of an unpaid debt or of harm or injury to another. The crest of the person who owed the debt or caused the harm or injury... More would be carved into the pole and raised at a potlatch. The righting of the wrong or payment of the debt was accomplished at another potlatch, again, so that there would be many witnesses. Then the pole was burned and the wrong was never mentioned again.
1. At the top of this pole is a figure representing a white man, indicated by the use of curly hair and a beard.
2. The next figure down is holding a shrimp in its mouth, a symbol said to represent a thief.
3. Another symbol of thievery is the crab. Can you identify that figure on the pole? (pause) It is the fourth one from the top in an upside down position. Note the claws. (pause)
4. The bottom figure is a beaver, recognized by the teeth and tail.
The original pole stood in the Kaigani Haida village of Sukkwan. This is a replica carved during the 1938-1942 CCC project using local Native carvers.
An interesting sidelight is that this pole formerly stood near the old foot bridge across Indian River and was swept away in 1941, the heaviest documented flood in the history of the Park. It was retrieved by the US Navy who was involved in gravel removal operations in the area. Perhaps the US Navy just helped right the wrong done so many years ago.Less
Gaanax.adi/Raven Crest Pole
Totem poles are contributions to the values, character and experiences of the clans who hosted the potlatches to raise the poles. More important than physical possessions of the Tlingit and Haida, though, are their crests. Anytime and anywhere crests are used, whether on blankets, tunics, hunting tools, spoons or... More other utilitarian objects, the crests are public record of who owns the item. And in that system, it speaks to the history of the people, as those items are passed on from one generation to the next.
When being reproduced in 1983, the carvers used early photographs by E. W. Merrill from the Park collection to reproduce the details of the original pole. The Civilian Conservation Corps replica of the same pole is in the covered Totem Preservation Exhibit near the upper trailhead of the Totem Loop Trail.
It is unclear whether this is a story pole or crest pole. The figures on this Tlingit pole from Tuxekan on POW Island suggest clan crests which may have its origins in a myth or legend.
1. One legend speaks of a young man who married into a clan of cranes held in human form by the power of a giant frog. He, unknowingly, by killing the frog with a stick, released the curse on the Crane People.
2. Another legend suggested by the figure of the whale near the center of the pole is called the Raven and the Whale.
One day Raven the Trickster found himself in the belly of a whale. Hungry, he lit a fire, thinking he might eat some parts of the whale. The whale soon died, and eventually floated ashore with Raven trapped inside. When Raven heard the voices of the villagers approaching the beached whale, he began making noise. The villagers became curious about the noise, and cut open the whale. Raven quickly stepped out, hungry as always, and tricked the villagers into leaving him lots of food.
3. Yet another legend recalled is how Raven gave the moon to mankind.
Whether a story pole or a crest pole, the figures are solid reminders of a culture rich in ceremony and creative arts and complex in its social, legal, and political systems.Less
Raven Memorial Pole
The figures that appear on poles may be distinguished by their most distinctive features.
The loon is distinguished from other birds by a white neck-band,
the eagle by a white head and large curved beak,
the crane by a long narrow beak,
the owl by a short curved beak,
the cormorant by a long narrow beak, rather oval in... More cross section,
and the raven by a rather large, slightly hooked beak, rather narrow in cross section.
Raven is portrayed on this memorial column, distinguished by his rather large, slightly crooked beak. The person being honored by the erection of this pole was of the Raven moiety.
In Sitka, the Tlingit traditionally placed their memorial poles on the ridge behind their village. Today that ridge would lie along present-day Katlian Street, overlooking the channel of water that separates Sitka and Japonski Island.
The original was accidently burned in 1959 and a reproduction was carved shortly thereafter.Less
Step close to the pole. (pause) Close your eyes. (pause) Open them. (pause)
The massiveness of this pole has the effect of carrying you back 100 years as it fills your field of vision. Close your eyes again.
You are now a guest in your finest regalia in a large canoe approaching the beach in front of the Kaigani Haida... More village of Sukkwan which borders southern Tlingit country. Listen to the drum beat resonating through the forest and off the water. The accompanying singing causes you to start swaying. You are being welcomed to the potlatch.
You see poles standing in a row a few feet in front of owners’ houses. You are going to be helping raise this pole to add to the row of impressive columns of carved cedar extending the whole length of the village.
You think about the tripod of logs that creates a strong supporting frame, the ropes that will be used to pull, and the sheer manpower it will take to lift this solid structure off the ground! But your thoughts are interrupted as you are now whisked away to join in the festivities that surround this event. The adrenaline rush will last several days. And you will need it. (pause—“You may open your eyes again.”)
The figures on this Kaigani Haida pole represent 3 Tlingit legends, the most interesting of which is depicted by the figure at the bottom with a creature in its mouth. It is the history of how a clan acquired the woodworm as its crest.
Another one of the 3 legends depicted is a cruel villain of a man pressing one of his children (who was half-human and half-dog) against his coat made from the spine of a fish, killing the child.
Another legend depicted on the pole is the Bear Who Married a Woman—a story claimed by a southern Tlingit clan.
At 4’ wide, this pole is the finest of the Park’s collection.Less
Mosquito Legend Pole
Stories can travel far and wide. And this pole is evidence of that in a unique way. Like many other poles in the Park, it spent time at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, MO and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, OR. It also was loaned to the US Naval Air Station on Japonski Island across... More from Sitka and then turned over to Mt. Edgecumbe High School, a boarding high school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs who took over the military facilities after WWII. One of the few originally loaned to the US Navy, it was the only intact pole when, in 1961, it was arranged for its indefinite loan to the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka. It remained there until 1983 when it returned to the Sitka National Historical Park.
A 70 year journey!! What a witness to mankind’s movement from a time when the nation was showing off its progress through technology at the expositions at the beginning of the 20th century, to a time of a nation at world war twice, to a time of rebuilding a society, to a time when museums and other public attractions could carry on with inviting people in who had the leisure time now.
This pole blends Haida carving style with 3 Tlingit stories. At the top is the familiar Village Watchman.
1. A Tlingit figure associated with the creature from which mosquitoes originated is the second totem on this pole.
2. Below that is a female bear holding the hunter who was lost in the woods and he became her husband.
3. The large figure at the base is probably a devilfish or octopus recognized as a bear. Notice the suction cups used as eyebrows. The rock under which the octopus lived is represented by the face shown between its ears, and the octopus holds the man who went to live in the octopus village under the sea and married the octopus princess.
The original of this pole may be viewed in the Totem Preservation Exhibit located outside the visitor center at the north end.Less
The Tlingit quietly left the sapling fort during the night, even though the fort construction would allow the propelled Russian cannonballs to give under the pressure. It had been a 6-day siege on the Tlingit stronghold near Indian River but the Tlingits were low on gunpowder. They would then walk across the island in an event now... More known as what Herb Hope, Kiks.adi elder, would describe as, “…a survival march through our own back yard to a planned destination.”
In 1804, the Tlingit Kiks.adi clan fought a key battle against invading Russian forces at the mouth of Indian River. The Kiks.adi Pole is a memorial to those Kiks.adi people who lost their lives in the conflict. It is named after K’alyaan, the legendary warrior who led the battle.
The top figure on the pole is Raven, representing the whole of the Raven moiety. The figures below are Raven clan crests. From the top to the bottom, they are
sockeye salmon (with its spots that show up when spawning),
dog salmon (with its crooked snout that develops during spawning),
The bottom figure represents the Raven helmet worn by K’alyaan during battle.
This totem was commissioned by Kiks.adi leader Al Perkins and carved in 1999 by Tlingit Tommy Joseph with assistant carver Fred Beltran at the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural center. It was raised on the site of the historic Kiks.adi fort with the help of the Sitka community.
Following the memorial ceremonies marking its dedication, the pole was given to the Park by the Kiks.adi in memory of their ancestors of long ago…who fought the battle that marked the last major Native resistance in Sitka to European domination in Alaska.Less
Saanaheit House Posts
Observing Tlingit or Haida dwellings would excite the senses.
A single-story, low-pitched 20X30 structure with a gabled roof faced the ocean.
Overlapping planks of red cedar or spruce were roughly hewn.
A central rectangular area inside was excavated for a large single hearth. A smoke hole was directly above.
20-30... More people from 4-6 families typically occupied such dwellings.
Of great significance would be the house posts placed inside at the corners. They would have notches cut in the tops to receive the large log beams that supported the whole of the roof of the house. They would be carved in high relief with crests or legends on the vertical length of the pole.
These house posts in the Park are replicas of original house posts donated to the people of Alaska in 1901 by Chief Saanaheit of Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. Designs on these house posts are said to be from a legend in which Raven obtains the sun, moon and stars for the people of the earth. Chief Saanaheit’s original posts remain in the Park, on exhibit in Totem Hall in the visitor center. You can still hear the sounds locked in a quiet dialog of its own.Less
Can you imagine if this nearly 60’ pole had been at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis, MO?! It is taller and has more figures than any other authentically designed pole known!
But… the over 70 year old pole at the time it was donated, is the only historical pole in the Park that was collected, came directly... More to the Park, and never left.
Although several figures such as the traditional Village Watchman, a bear, and Raven are identifiable, other figures are not, and little information about the story of this intricately carved giant has survived.
The original pole was from the Kaigani Haida village of Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island and was donated to the people of Alaska in 1901 by Chief Saanaheit as a memorial to his people. By the late 1930s the original pole had seriously deteriorated. Today only a fragment of the original pole remains. It is the Raven’s head and it is on exhibit in Totem Hall in the visitor center.
When the second generation pole was carved by a Native crew of Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 1940s, the crew had to fit the design onto 2 logs pieced together, for a single log of adequate height could not be located since Sitka lay north of the region where red cedars grow and the cost of attaining a suitable log was high. The joint is almost hidden by a new support post, but can be seen at the back of the pole. It was the first pole in the Park in 1901 and what a majestic one to welcome all the others that arrived 2 years later!Less
Culture/community; conflict/compromise. This pole is unusual in that it includes crest figures from both Raven and Eagle moieties. It is intended to be a public display of unity, putting old clan differences aside and working for the good of all Tlingit people.
In 1996, the Southeast Alaska Indian Cultural center commissioned... More Tlingit carvers Will Burkhart, Tommy Joseph and Wayne Price to carve a 36’ red cedar totem pole that would depict the first Tlingit people to settle in the Sitka area. The pole’s Tlingit name translates roughly, “Our grandparents who were the very first people to use Indian River and the other people who were here, too.”
1. The top figure is Raven the Creator, who made land and gave mankind light and fire. Raven also represents one of the moieties of the Tlingit people.
2. The human figure below Raven represents the first people to settle in Sitka. The figure wears a Kiks.adi clan crest hat and holds 2 coho salmon, the crest of the L’uknax.adi clan honored by the pole.
3. The third segment of the pole is the frog, which is the crest of the Kiks.adi clan.
4. It is followed by an eagle, representing all of the Eagle clans.
5. The bottom figure is the brown bear representing the Kaagwaantaan, Chookaneidi, and Wooshkeetaan clans of the eagle moiety. The Mother Bear’s tongue touches the head of the little bear, passing knowledge from one generation to the next.
This is a pole of which all Tlingits can be proud!
In 1976, the Sitka National Historical Park marked the nation’s bicentennial with a new direction. Although earlier poles had been carved and raised in the park by Civilian Conservation Corps carvers, the newly carved CCC poles were replicas of earlier poles from elsewhere in Southeast Alaska. In an era of growing Native pride... More, the Bicentennial Pole project set out to tell a modern story using a traditional format.
A design competition was sponsored and Duane Pasco, a noted North West Coast artist, won the bid to carve a new pole with a design depicting the last 200 years of Pacific Coast Indian cultural history. A living history demonstration was arranged in the park when this 27’ pole was carved out of the highly rot resistant red cedar.
1. The top figure represents the North West Coast Indian of today, weighing his values--the old way against the new--the effect of technology and industry on the people and ecology of the area.
2. The next figure below signifies the arrival of the white man, bringing with him firearms and Christianity. In his right hand is a rolled document, signifying a long line of treaties.
3. The third segment of the pole shows Raven and Eagle holding a copper shield, used in intertribal commerce. The salmon symbolize abundant food sources.
4. The bottom figure is the North West Coast Indian before the arrival of the white man, living close to nature--sharing a rich material culture and ceremonial life as represented by the halibut fish hook and dance rattle in his hands.
The pole is incomplete which symbolizes the unknown future of the North West Coast Indians. In the hands of the top figure are 2 staffs. The staff in the left hand is richly carved, symbolizing the abundant cultural heritage of the past. The staff in the right hand is bare, yet to be carved, signifying that the future remains to be seen.Less
Yaadaas Crest Pole
As originally observed in the early culture of the Pacific Northwest Indians, the potlatch served as a formal announcement and public validation affirming important events and the rights of individuals, families and clans. Deaths were mourned; children were given names; titles and honors were bestowed; ears were pierced, and... More so on. Since the invited guests who heard these claims announced and recognized their validity were regarded as witnesses to the proceedings, there were feasts and gifts for all.
This is a Haida potlatch pole, beautifully integrated and an excellent example of Haida carving technique. During the late 1800s this type of pole was the last development in the totem pole family and was the direct result of the accumulation of wealth, gained from employment in the fur trade and fishing industries, plus the availability of good steel tools and commercial paints.
The original pole remains in the Park’s collection and may be viewed in the Totem Preservation Exhibit. Its story was shared at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, MO, the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, OR and the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
This pole is a 2006 replica of the original Yaadaas Crest Pole from Old Kasaan on Prince of Wales Island. Two young Kaigani Haida carvers, brothers from the village of Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island, belong to the Yaadaas clan. What a delight for family and friends to have witnessed this project. Timothy and Joseph Young described their work as a way to honor their ancestors and to share information about their culture and heritage.
As the Park celebrated the centennial anniversary of the 1906 arrival of the Brady totem pole collection with the raising of this new pole replica, the brothers can rest assured that, indeed, the present and future generations of visitors will leave with a newfound respect and admiration. The visitors’ stories will be dispersed far and wide just as guests at potlatches in the past would have gone home with their stories to tell!Less