Explore Alaska Native Culture
Kichx̱áan was originally a summer fish camp used by Alaska Native peoples, and Tlingit culture remains a major influence in present-day Ketchikan. Perhaps the most noticeable symbols of traditional heritage are the totem poles, which tell stories of people, places, and events. Ketchikan has more totem poles than anywhere else in Alaska, ranging from 19th-century poles from now-abandoned villages to more recent carvings. As you view the totems, look for symbols of the raven and eagle moieties, which represent matrilineal groups, as well as different clan symbols such as the frog, bear, and orca whale. The poles’ formline designs and black, red, and blue-green pigments blend into the region’s rainforest environment yet stand out as sentinels of community and culture.
Wander amid the totems and view traditional items such as baskets, masks, and ceremonial objects at the Totem Heritage Center, located just outside of downtown Ketchikan. Totem Bight State Historical Park just outside of town includes 13 totems, some of which were restored or replicated from older totems by master carvers hired by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Be sure to visit the Clan House, a replica of a historical Tlingit clan house that would have housed 30 to 50 people.
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