Totem Poles


Totem Poles are such a unique form of artistic expression. They are made by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, which includes British Columbia, Alaska, Washington and Oregon. These impressive sculptures are carved from the trunks of very large trees, typically Western Red Cedars, and used as a way of documenting and communicating stories, myths and legends. Exploring one part of Canada’s rich cultural heritage is a nice way to celebrate Canada Day.


  • cylindrical container
  • pencil and paper
  • cardboard, egg cartons etc – used to make shapes on the cylinder
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • white paper towels
  • white glue
  • plastic container
  • paint brushes
  • paints



The designs and symbols carved on totem poles are used to tell a story about one’s clan lineage and important events. And while each tribe has its own distinctive style of carving, the top figure on the pole is usually the clan crest. Common crests are the raven, eagle, thunderbird, orca, frog and beaver. The carvings underneath the crest continue the story and typically include animals, supernatural beings, and human forms.

There are many wonderful websites providing information about the history of totem poles. A quick search for “Pacific Northwest Coast totem poles” will provide images to help children along with this project. Here are just a few sites:

Totem Poles Of The North American Northwest Coast Indians

Stories The Totems Tell: Bringing Aboriginal Poles To Life

Indigenous Foundations – University Of British Columbia

1. Have children do some research, and select the creatures they would like to include on their totem. Three seems to be a good number to fit on potato chip cans. They can sketch out their ideas if necessary.

2. Add these designs to the canister, using materials like cardboard, scrunched up newspaper, egg cartons and masking tape. The point is to emphasize certain features like eyes and wings.

3. Mix paper mâché paste using one part white glue to one part water. Dip strips of torn white paper towels in the paste, making sure to remove any excess before applying to the canister.


Aim for three layers. If using newspaper, you may want to paint the surface in white before adding others colours, so they appear more vibrant. Allow to dry. This may take several days.


4. Add paint to complete the totem pole.



Filed under paper mâché, totem poles

16 responses to “Totem Poles

  1. Wow!! This is so interesting. I do not have much on my hands these days for crafting but will definitely pin it to try it someday.

    Thank you so much for sharing. This is amazing.

  2. Thanks for the history lesson on totem poles! I didn’t know some of those things! What a fun project and you know I love using what you have!

  3. What a fun way to teach information about totem poles. I’m from Hawai’i and too many people confuse totem poles with tiki’s. Thanks for sharing at Inspire Us Thursday.

  4. This is a great history/art project. I’m pinning it! Thanks for sharing at Hobbies and Handicrafts

  5. I’m SO glad you shared this at the After School Linky Party. I’m featuring this tomorrow; stop by to check it out and share more great ideas/activities!

  6. creative and Green too! Fun to try it with the kids on a hot summer day! Thanks for sharing! Came over to visit you from Submarine Sunday party,

  7. navywifeypeters

    Such a cool craft! I think totem poles are beautiful, and I love how you painted these and the colors look nice.

    Navy Wifey Peters @ Submarine Sunday Link Party

  8. What a great project! Your totem pole is gorgeous!

  9. Fantastic idea!! Pinning this one 🙂

    Thanks so much for linking up at the party,
    ❤ Christina @ I Gotta Create!

  10. Such a neat idea!! Thank you for sharing at Sharing Saturday!!

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