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Totem Poles Admired Worldwide

Among the Kwakwaka'wakw tribes, the Thunderbird with its outstretched wings is a prominent motif. Widely imitated with the revitalization of Northwest Coast art in the 1950s, the Thunderbird became an internationally recognized icon of indigenous peoples. Two Thunderbird posts that originally had served as interior corner posts of a bighouse were erected in 1924 as a tourist attraction in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia (BC). The posts were carved by Kwakiutl artist Yaakutlas (Charlie James) of 'Yalis (Alert Bay) for Chief Tsa wee norrh of Gway'i (Kingcome Village). Years later the posts were restored by his granddaughter, Ellen May Neel (1933 – 1967), one of the first indigenous women to take up carving professionally. Her own "Kaka'solas" Thunderbird, carved in 1955, stands nearby (right).


Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC


Thunder Bird Totem Pole, Stanley Park
Carved by Kwakiutl Yaakutlas, c. 1924

Kwicksutaineuk Ellen Neel, 1948
Painting a miniature Thunderbird

Kaka'solas Totem Pole, Stanley Park
Carved by Ellen Neel, 1955

Acwsalcta Totem Pole Raising
Ancestral Engineering
Bella Coola Totem Raised
British Museum Totem Pole Ceremony
DeMenil Photos of Totem Poles
Conservation of Northwest Coast Totem Poles
Early Totem Carvers of New Metlakatla
The Enduring Power of Totem Poles
First Nations Totem Poles
Haida Heritage Centre
Haisla G'psgolox Pole
Heraldic Columns of the Northwest Coast
Hydaburg Totem Park
Kispiox Totem Poles
Kitselas Totem Poles
Kitsumkalum Su–Sit'aatk
Klawock Totem Pole Raising
Klukwan Whale House
Koskimo House Post
‘Ksan Historical Village Totem Poles
Listening To Our Ancestors
Looking Out
Making Meaning in Totemland
Monuments in Cedar
Northwest Coast Native Art and Culture
Out Of the Silence
Pitt Rivers Museum Totem Pole
Present at Creation: Totem Poles
Pt'saan Jabim
Pts'aanhl Nisga'a
Respect to Bill Reid Pole
Saxman Native Village Tour
Skeena River Totem Poles
Sealaska Heritage Totem Pole
Sitka National Historical Park
Skidegate Haida Model Houses and Poles
Stolen Totem Pole Unveiled
Thunderbird Park
Totem Bight State Historical Park
Totem Heritage Center
Totem Pole from the Nass River
Totems to Turquoise
Totem Poles – An Exploration
Totem Poles
Totem Poles of the Gitksạn
Totem Poles of the Northwest Coast Indians
To the Totem Forests
Windsor Park Totem Pole

In 1931, a 37 ft long totem pole was sent from a Nisga'a community to the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh where it remains on display today (right). From an article published in 1931: "The pole was erected some 70 or 80 years ago at the village of Angyada, on the lower Nass River, British Columbia. It was amongst the oldest in the country, no poles being known which are more than about 80 years old. The pole was the property of Neestsawl, a chief of the Nass, and head of a family of the Raven phratry (Kanhada). It was erected as a memorial to Tsawit, a chief in the family of Neestsawl, soon after he had been killed in a raid by the Tshimshian against the Niska of the lower Nass."

"Tsawit was next in line to the head chief Neestsawl, who was one of the wealthiest chiefs of the Nass; consequently one of the finest poles was set up in his memory. The carving was executed by two men: Oyay, of Gitwinksihlk (People of Lizards) at the canyon of the Nass, and his assistant Gwanes. Both carvers belonged to the Pireweed (Gisrast) phratry. Oyay was the foremost carver of the Nass River district, at the best period of totem pole art (about 1840 – 1880). . . The pole was known by two names: (a) Hlkwarcet (Small hat) from the hat worn by the figure at the top; or (b) Masrayait (White Bullhead) from the fish represented on it. The figures carved on the pole were in effect family crests, illustrative of the largely mythological history of the family" A Totem Pole from the Nass River.

Nisga'a carver Norman Tait, 2004.
Name strengthening ceremony, Vancouver, BC


Nisga'a totem pole by Oyay and Gwanes.
Royal Scottish Museum, 2007

Another Nisga'a pole was "donated" by the Canadian National Railways to the Musée d' Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris. It was said to be from the hand of the same carver, Oyay, and stood next to the pole sent to Edinburgh. Barbeau's principal informant was Lazarus Moody of Gitrhatin whose wife, 'Ntsitskaos, was the original owner of the hereditary pole. Oyay's great grandson is carver Norman Tait, born in the Nisga'a village of Kincolith on the Nass River in 1941. In 1991 Tait visited the Royal Scottish Museum to see the totem pole carved by his ancester (above). To further his study of Nisga'a totem poles, Tait visited museums in Madrid, Berlin, Paris, New York and Osaka.

Left he is seen wearing a traditional cedar hat during a name strengthening ceremony for his totem poles in Capilano Mall, North Vancouver in 2004. Tait helped revive the ancient Nisga'a style, which he describes as "about halfway between Haida and Tlingit art" and today his carvings can be found in public and private collections around the world.


Haida pole, collected c. 1939
Owner Chief Skanish
Musée de l'Homme
Paris, France

Haida pole, collected c. 1939
Archaeology Museum
Cambridge University
United Kingdom

Haida poles, collected c. 1893
Carvers unknown
Field Museum
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Kwakiutl pole, collected c. 1870 Carvers unknown
British Museum
London, United Kingdom

Haida pole, collected c. 1911
Skidegate, Haida Gwaii
Victoria Museum
Melbourne, Australia

Nisga'a pole, c. 1870
Collected 1933
Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto, Canada

Haida totem pole, c. 1860
Collected 1901
City Museum
Liverpool, UK

Haida & Tlingit pole, c. 1900
Carvers unknown
Smithsonian Institute
Washington DC, USA

Haida post, collected c. 1881
Carver unknown
Museum of Ethnology
Berlin, Germany

Haida totem poles
Southwestern Museum of the American Indian
Los Angeles, USA

Haida pole, collected c. 1880 American Museum of Natural History
New York, New York, USA

Tlingit pole, collected c. 1915 Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology
Philadelphia, USA


"Beaver Pole," Field Museum.
Carved by Nisga'a Norman Tait (below)


Greenpeace Germany
Dedicated to Ista
Nuxalk carvers, 1999

Bergen, Norway
Nordness Park
Carver unknown
Gift from Seattle

Gisborne, NZ
Capt. Cook Memorial
Carver unknown
Gift from Canada, 1969

Bonn, Germany
Sculpture Park
Tony Hunt, Kwakiutl
Gift from Canada, 1979

Bronx, New York
NY Zoological Gardens
Carver unknown
Purchase, 1964

Morioka, Japan
Iwate Park
Carver unknown
Gift from Victoria

Dortmund, Germany
Westfalen Park
Carver unknown
Gift from Canada

The Netherlands
Silyas, Nuxalk
Purchase, 2007

Uttersberg, Sweden
Sculpture Park
Don Yeomans, Haida
Purchase, 1990

Yorkshire, UK
Sculpture Park
Tim Paul, Hesquiaht
Purchase, 1987

London, UK
Horniman Museum
Nathan Jackson, Tlingit
Purchase, 1985

Sydney, Australia
Australian Museum
Richard Hunt , Kwakiutl
Purchase, 1988