The book Looking at Totem Poles by Hilary Stewart is an eye-opener. First of all I assumed that the totem poles you see in books and on television are all old totem poles. Not true. In fact just the opposite.
I was flipping through the book, checking out all the wonderful totems, when I noticed that the carving dates for the poles in this book are fairly recent dates. Luckily, the author does a fantastic job of explaining why this is so.
Like most native peoples in North America, as soon as white settlers decided they wanted an area, the residents of that ancestral land were forced to move on and to deny their culture as well. In the case of totem poles it meant that quite a few of them were stolen and placed in national museums around the world, thus denying access to these important spiritual creations.
As most people know, totems tell a story. The totem pole tells a detailed story of a particular family’s history. As the totems disappeared from the landscape, so did the stories and those who knew how to carve them. Luckily, past mistakes by the U.S. and Canadian governments were realized, and the traditional peoples of the Pacific Northwest were once again able to enjoy the rich spiritual traditions of their ancestors. Also extremely lucky was the fact that some native peoples had continued on the tradition of totem pole carving (if only in miniature) and were able to pass these skills along to a younger generation. This younger generation of carvers quickly began the work of recreating the totemic scenery of the Pacific Northwest and its native peoples.
The ink drawings and photographs of the totem poles are amazing, as well as, the author’s description behind what these poles mean.