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The totem poles in the park are exhibited along a scenic coastal trail. Traditionally, the totems would not have been arranged in such a neat line. Where would the totem poles have stood? Just for a moment, imagine that you are an explorer in the early 19th century, sailing through southeast Alaska. As you come around a point, a native village comes into view. Close by the water are numerous single story rectangular houses. And towering above the houses, at the corners and in front of them, are carved poles with striking designs and colors.

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.

Many poles exhibited along the park's wooded pathways are copies of deteriorating originals now in storage. Alaska's District Governor John G. Brady brought a sizable collection of totem poles to Sitka in 1905. These histories carved in cedar were rounded up from villages throughout southeastern Alaska. Only a few poles are originally from Sitka, although this art form is very much a part of Tlingit tradition.

Our virtual Carved History Walk will take you to fifteen different stops. The aerial photograph below shows the location of each stop.Click here to start virtual tour

Saanaheit Pole & House Posts
Yaadaas Crest Corner Pole
Haa leelk'u has Kaa sta heeni deiyi Pole
Trader Legend Pole
Bicentennial Pole
Raven Memorial Pole
Frog/Raven Pole
Gaanaxadi/Raven Crest Pole
Yaadaas Crest Corner Pole
Lakich'inei Pole
Wolf Pole
Mosquito Legend Pole
Memorial/Mortuary Pole
K'alyaan Pole
Raven/Shark Pole    

For more information about the totem poles in Sitka National Historical Park, refer to the Alaska Natural History Association publication: "Carved History" by Marilyn Knapp.

National Park Service logoLast updated October 22, 2002
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