• Image of visitor center and totem poles


    National Historical Park Alaska

Totem Poles

With their striking designs and colors, totem poles are bold statements of the identities and stories of the people who carved them. A totem pole generally served one of four purposes.

  • Crest poles give the ancestry of particular family.
  • History poles record the history of a clan.
  • Legend poles illustrate folklore or real life experiences.
  • Memorial poles commemorate a particular individual.

Totem poles did not stand along the park’s wooded trails until 1906. Between 1901 and 1903, several Native leaders from villages in southeast Alaska agreed to donate poles to Alaska’s District Governor John G. Brady for the people of Alaska.

After exhibiting the poles at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, Governor Brady sent the poles to Sitka where they were erected in the “government park”. Over the years, replicas of some of the original totem poles have been carved as the original poles deteriorated. 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.

Learn the stories and legends of the totem poles in the park. The virtual Carved History Walk will take you to fifteen different stops along the park's trails.

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For more information about the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park, refer to the Alaska Geographic publication, Carved History, by Marilyn Knapp, and The Most Striking of Objects by Andrew Patrick.

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