Totem Poles at Collins

The term Totem Pole refers to a wooden sculpture, typically carved from Cedar, that originated from the Native people of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The carvings found on totem poles carry specific significance for different tribes and were often used to mark tombs of the deceased or to protect the entrances of homes. When it became illegal to erect new totem poles, tribes began to carve smaller versions, like the ones found in the display case in the library. When this law was revoked in 1950, Native peoples were once again allowed to honor their ancient traditions.


Pictured (from left to right): Standing Eagle Totem by Al Zantua, Kenneth McGill Totem Pole Collection, Large Tlingit Totem (circa 1900) from the Kenneth McGill Collection.

The University received fourteen small totem poles from the Kenneth McGill Family Collection. Carved between 1890 and 1950 for commercial trade, these poles represent Northwest First Nations Material Culture. They were collected by Edith and Dr. Charles McGill and son Kenneth McGill over the last sixty years.  This collection of totem poles encompasses several different tribes from the Pacific Northwest, namely the Tlingit people, the skillful traders, hunters, and gatherers who inhabit the southeastern coast of Alaska. 

Pictured (on right): Eagle Spirit Mask by Al Zantua, a gift to David Dodson, Dead of Students from 1983-1993.

Collins Library is proud to display the totem poles pictured on this site, among others, which you can find in the West Reading Room.

Resources on Totem Poles available at Collins Library:

  • Home Before the Raven Caws: The Mystery of the Totem Pole by Richard D. Feldman (E98.T65 F45 2003)
  • Listening to Our Ancestors: The Art of Native Life Along the North Pacific Coast by Robert Joseph (E78.N78 L58 2005)

For more information on totem poles, visit the following web sites:

Other totem poles in Tacoma:

  • Fireman’s Park - Visit this downtown park to see Tacoma’s oldest and tallest Totem Pole

  • Tollfeson Plaza - See local contemporary artist Shaun Peterson (Puyallup/Tulalip tribe’s) work