Books tell a story, carvings on a wall tell a story, and in Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan, Alaska, totem poles tell a story documented by the early Native Americans.

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem PolesThough totem poles  are  prevalent  throughout southwest Alaska, Saxman Native Village is known for having the largest collection of standing totem poles. These were first created by local Native Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian artists (the three main indigenous groups in the Ketchikan Indian Community), who brilliantly carved symbols into red cedar logs from the Tongass Rainforest.

Those symbols illustrated on the totem poles included  animals and mythological creatures that were believed to have spiritual significance. They watch over the families, clans and tribes of those who observe the belief of Totemism.  The symbols  represent clans, with the two most prominent clans belonging to the eagle and raven.  While the raven is represented by a straight beak, the eagle has a curved one.

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem PolesEagle and Raven Symbolism

Eagle: The eagle is seen as an intelligent and resourceful animal. Many believe the eagle to be the  ruler of the sky because it can  soar higher than other birds. Their feathers are even considered sacred among many tribes. The eagle is seen as a divine spirit, representing  sacrifice, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taking. The eagle is a powerful symbol of prestige, and also denotes peace and friendship. Many ancient tribes also believed the bird could transform into a human.

Raven: Despite being perceived as corrupt and hungry, the raven is one of the most commonly used symbols in Alaska, and is the subject of more than 90 stories carved on totem poles. One of which explains the origins of the sun and moon. The Tlingit tradition tells how, long ago, the world was covered in darkness:

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles“Raven grew tired of stumbling around and went in search of light. As he came near the house of an old chief, he overheard the chief talking with his daughter. Raven learned that the chief kept all the light of the world locked away in a box.” This is when Raven planned to steal that box.  He transformed himself into a hemlock needle and landed in the river. It was then when the chief’s daughter unknowingly drank him and became pregnant. She later gave birth to a son — Raven’s human form.

The chief loved his new grandson and would have done anything for him. One day, Raven saw the box and begged to play with it. The chief refused, but as any kid would do, he cried, screamed, and even threw tantrums.  Eventually, the chief gave him the box, even though it was the one thing he did not want to share.

Raven instantly changed back to his bird form, carried the box through the  smoke hole inside the house, and placed the light in the sky as the sun, the moon and the stars.

Experience Ketchikan

Explore the rich living culture of southeast Alaska’s Native Americans, where more than a sixth of the city’s population is Alaskan native or American Indian.

Discover all about Ketchikan’s fascinating totem pole history on Regatta’s Majesty of Alaska voyage, or one of our other exciting Alaska voyages this summer.

Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles Alaska9 Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles Saxman Native Village: History through Totem Poles

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s