Totem Poles

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People believe that totems originated around the Northwest Pacific Coast where Native Americans had specific rules and traditions about how they were made and used. Although no one knows for sure how long the Native Americans have been living in the North America region, it is known that their culture is very much centered around their spiritual beliefs as individual families and clans. Despite the common belief that totem poles represent Native American gods, in many tribes they were used to represent the beliefs and traits of the family who owned it. The making of a totem pole is a long and complicated process. Before a totem pole is carved a meeting of the elders, sponsors, and master carver is held and the master carver designs a small model of what the totem will look like. Then the tree is debarked and smoothed. Totems are usually carved from a mature cedar tree with few imperfections. The carver begins at the bottom and works his way to the top. While working the carvers traditionally sing ceremonial songs. Though many people believe that the figure at the top of the pole is the most important the truth is that the figures at the bottom are most important because they are seen up close. The carver decides whether or not to paint the pole after the carving is finished. The master carver talks with the apprentice carvers about the overall concept of the totem while cutting rough forms. Though larger totems have been found, most totem poles range from three and seven feet tall. Small poles take anywhere from two to three months to finish, large poles can take eight to nine or more. "To be authentic, a totem pole needs to be sanctioned, that is, it must pass certain tests. First, it must be made by a trained Northwest Pacific Native person or, in rare cases, by a non-Native apprentice who has been approved by a Northwest Pacific Coast band from Coastal British Columbia or Alaska. Second, it must be raised and blessed by Northwest Natives or elders...
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