Totem is a word that comes from the Eastern side of this continent so it is not an accurate word to describe the poles that we now call Totem Poles here on the North West coast. A Totem in its original use was a spirit helper or animal spirit that belonged to one person. It was a personal thing that had to be sought after and helped a person to be strong and honorable. Then some of the other Eastern Indians used a clan symbol that would tell others who they were. This was also called a totem, and is closer to the usage on the North West Coast
We modern Americans and Canadians now lump all of the different types of poles used by the people of the North West into the catagory of “Totem Poles” or just “Totems” There are many types of totem poles in use on the Northern coast, memorial poles to honor the dead, crest poles to put in front of your house, so everyone knows who lives there, and story poles. A story pole can be raised to commemorate an event by retelling the story in figures on the pole. Here in the Salish area there are also Welcome Figures, which are large single figures that were set up on the beach in front of the village to welcome guests. There are also house posts that are part of the support system in the old style cedar plank houses that were exquisitely carved with figures from family history or stories that belonged to the family.
This bracelet is designed to illustrate certain characters used in the myths and legends of the Tlingit and Haida people. This totem design is not really a pole as it has no
base. It is a pole with two tops and no bottom, which you can’t do on a cedar log but on a bracelet it works! The figures are a Grizzly Bear with a Salmon being scooped up in his paw, with Raven and Eagle watching from each end, in case he should drop the fish or leave some scraps that could be snatched up and taken away for dinner. Typical behavior for these creatures! We designed this bracelet for our friend Steve, who wanted to embody the West Coast environment around his wrist. I think it is pretty successful in doing that!
Hand-carved Sterling Silver Totem bracelet by Owen Walker, 1.25 inch width.