One of the outstanding structures at Totem Bight, a state historical park ten miles north of Ketchikan, is the replica of a Tlingit clan house – authentic down to the 4-foot height of its entrance (to deter invaders) and the hand-carved walls and floorboards. As you stoop to enter, the smell of red cedar greets you. Standing in the enclosed structure, you may wonder how 30-50 people could live here, or how long it must have taken to carve all the wood with an adze – a hand-tool made of hard stone and alder.
Near the clan house stand 14 replicas of historic totems, silent storytellers facing out to sea. The originals – and the replicas – were adze-carved too.
There’s no better way to spend part of a day immersing yourself in the traditions of Southeast’s native cultures than by strolling through the rainforest at Totem Bight and learning about the stories represented on these Haida and Tlingit poles.
These stories would have been lost were it not for a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program that brought poles from abandoned sites into Totem Bight (an old fish camp) so that Native carvers could faithfully reproduce them by hand – even creating modern paint colors to match tones originally made from natural materials like salmon eggs, copper pebbles, lichen and clam shells.
Check out the Totem Bight website before you go – it will help you understand the depth of native culture represented here. Once you arrive, pick up a map for easy navigation and interpretation of the stories.