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Lesson Plans

Re: Totem poles

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Sun, 12 Oct 1997 15:02:35 -0400 (EDT)

One of the most prominant tribes known for totem poles is the Tlinget
tribe of Alaska. The tradition was that a totem pole was erected to
commemorate a "potlatch." In a potlatch, the host gives gifts to all of the
guests in attendance. If you are invited to a potlatch, it is expected that
you will host a potlatch in return...if you don't, bad luck may result. I
have a book somewhere that explains it in greater depth. The potlatch
ceremony was of great importance to this culture.
Each totem pole may depict a myth from that culture, and are often topped
with either an eagle, or Raven, who was one of the most important characters
in the Tlinget mythology. Raven was the one who stole the sun and the moon
for the sky, and brought fire to the Tlinget people.
Another totem pole which is common shows a mother bear and her cubs. She is
embracing a human, who used to be her husband. If you're interested, I'll
type out some of these stories and send them to you later.
You'll notice that there are abstracted "eyes" carved and painted into
different areas of the animals depicted. These eyes are often located in a
center the creature's strength, or power. For instance, a beaver might have
one on his tail....birds would have one on their wings....a salmon would have
one in a fin or tail.
There are still totem pole carvers today. Although they are carved with many
traditional tools, they are carved for many more reasons. There are few old
totem poles left, because the weathering over the years has caused
considerable damage. I believe that there is a Totem Museum in Sitka,
Alaska. I'll see if I can find the address for you, because they offered
many wonderful slides of totems. I know that my students love looking at the
slides I brought back from Alaska, and talking about the artwork found there.

For creating your own, I often have children stuff and staple and paper bag,
and then paint that bag as one of the animals covered in our discussion of
totem poles. These bags are then stacked and attached to each other,
creating the finished totem poles.
We also fold 12x18 paper in half, draw an outline of a face with black paint
on one side of the folded paper, and then fold and rub after each line is
added, creating the symmetry often used in the creation of totem poles.
After all the features have been added, we allow these to dry. Children
later can color these in with crayon, colored pencil, or more paint.
If you don't mind sending me your address, I do have some printouts that I
can send you on totem poles, as well as bent-wood baskets and raven masks,
from the same culture.

Deb Meier-Sprague
Batavia City Schools
Batavia, NY