Interested in making your Alaska cruise a fascinating, culturally enriching experience? Travelers on Alaska vacations should make a point to call in Ketchikan — a place that many consider to be the totem pole capital of the world.
The tradition of Alaskan totem pole carving, thought to depict physical representations of family and clan emblems, long predates colonial times. Prior to the 19th century, few families could afford to commission their creation. Totem carving hit its peak in the mid-1800s, thanks to wealth brought in by the fur trade and an increase in the availability of iron tools, which made totem carving easier and faster for local artists. Much of the fur trade wealth was used in potlatches — elaborate ceremonial gift-giving feasts — which celebrated the construction and raising of totem poles.
The practice of carving these iconic structures lives on today in Southeast Alaska. To learn more about native Alaskan history and see current artists at work, visit the following Ketchikan totem pole sanctuaries on your next trip.
The Totem Heritage Center
The Totem Heritage Center was developed in 1976 to stabilize and preserve 19th-century totem poles. Located just outside Ketchikan's downtown corridor, this museum houses some of the most magnificent examples of Alaskan totem poles in existence. In addition, the Heritage Center perpetuates the traditional arts and crafts of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures through its award-winning native arts classes.
Totem Bight State Park
Built on the site of a traditional fishing camp, Totem Bight State Park is a testament to the care and love of generations of people committed to passing the knowledge of totem carving to new generations. In 1938, the US Forest Service began hiring skilled native totem carvers to teach younger generations the art of totem carving. This left two legacies at Totem Bight State Park: 14 beautiful Ketchikan totem poles arranged in a natural setting, and the knowledge of the craft of totem carving.
Saxman Native Village and Totem Pole Park
While you're visiting Alaska, plan an Alaska shore excursion to the Saxman Native Village and Totem Pole Park. Here, you'll not only experience traditional songs and dances of the Tlingit culture, but you'll also see the impressive totem poles at Totem Pole Park. The highlight of your visit to Saxman Native Village will be at the Village Carving Center, where craftspeople continue to create totems and pass their knowledge on to others.
On your cruise to Alaska, visit each of these captivating collections of Alaskan totem poles and take in the vibrant history of natives. Between the breathtaking Alaskan landscape and this unique glimpse into the past, you'll satisfy your thirst for adventure — and rejuvenate your spirit.