Mark and Nadine's Arctic Expedition travel blog

Village totem poles

"Resting" totem poles

Totem close-up

Totem figure

Back on the road south, through BC, we took a short detour to the native village of Gitanyow, which has a large concentration of standing totem poles. Although the village’s new interpretive center wasn’t open, we talked with people at a nearby café to learn more about the totem poles.

It seems that they function as a kind of carved history of the various family clans of the village. The top figure on each totem pole identifies the clan (Frog, Crow, Eagle, etc.). The remaining figures, from the bottom to the top, represent events or stories from the life of the clan.

For example, one striking totem pole that we saw has a hole in it, surrounded by figures of people. It tells the story of a time of famine, when the people were starving. One old woman prayed that the people might have food; suddenly a hole opened in the ice and fish began jumping out of the hole!

We had a great time looking at the totem poles and learning more about them. We learned, for instance, that when a pole falls, the people wait a year before putting it up again, in order to give it a good rest. (Actually, nowadays, when a pole falls, they replace it with a newly carved replica, but even then they wait a year before putting up the new version.)

Then it was back on the road - BC is a huge province! We finally stopped for the night at Pruden Lake Provincial Park. It was a lovely night to walk down to the beach and look at the water.

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