Totem poles are contributions to the values, character and experiences of the clans who hosted the potlatches to raise the poles. More important than physical possessions of the Tlingit and Haida, though, are their crests. Anytime and anywhere crests are used, whether on blankets, tunics, hunting tools, spoons or other utilitarian objects, the crests are public record of who owns the item. And in that system, it speaks to the history of the people, as those items are passed on from one generation to the next.
When being reproduced in 1983, the carvers used early photographs by E. W. Merrill from the Park collection to reproduce the details of the original pole. The Civilian Conservation Corps replica of the same pole is in the covered Totem Preservation Exhibit near the upper trailhead of the Totem Loop Trail.
It is unclear whether this is a story pole or crest pole. The figures on this Tlingit pole from Tuxekan on POW Island suggest clan crests which may have its origins in a myth or legend.
1. One legend speaks of a young man who married into a clan of cranes held in human form by the power of a giant frog. He, unknowingly, by killing the frog with a stick, released the curse on the Crane People.
2. Another legend suggested by the figure of the whale near the center of the pole is called the Raven and the Whale. One day Raven the Trickster found himself in the belly of a whale. Hungry, he lit a fire, thinking he might eat some parts of the whale. The whale soon died, and eventually floated ashore with Raven trapped inside. When Raven heard the voices of the villagers approaching the beached whale, he began making noise. The villagers became curious about the noise, and cut open the whale. Raven quickly stepped out, hungry as always, and tricked the villagers into leaving him lots of food.
3. Yet another legend recalled is how Raven gave the moon to mankind.
Whether a story pole or a crest pole, the figures are solid reminders of a culture rich in ceremony and creative arts and complex in its social, legal, and political systems.