In Cold Justice there are many scenes with totem poles. One of the most memorable scenes for me is when Samuel, my main character, returns to Malamute (the fictional town he used to live in) and sees the totem of the Raven Clan (a fictional tribe of Native Alaskans). As I wrote that scene, I pictured a totem much like the one above.
Totem poles are monuments that tell stories and give histories of the different Native Alaskan clans. They recount legends and notable events. Certain types of totem poles are mortuary structures and even have grave boxes supporting the poles. They also represent shamanic powers. If a totem pole is part of a house front it shows the success of the family.
Totems have never been objects of worship. The vertical order of the images is believed to show the importance they are in the story. That's why when you hear the saying, "low man on the totem pole" it means that person was not a main character. However, some believe the reverse and that the most important is at the bottom. Whenever there's a rule there's an exception, and so it is with totem poles.
There are even "shame poles." One was created to shame the former U.S. Secretary of State for not repaying a potlatch. On the pole the ears and nose were painted red which indicated the secretary's stinginess.
When a totem pole is removed from its original site the meaning of the pole changes. Something to think about if you're ever tempted to move one.
Here's a fun little clip. I love the mystical music with it.