Ketchikan: City of Totems
At the end of April I visited Ketchikan with my mum on our annual mother/daughter trip. Since it was the very beginning of the Alaska cruise season we enjoyed the seclusion of being the only ship in port. We chose to spend our day away from the boring diamond and tanzanite stores that populate Ketchikan and get to know more of the areas Native culture.
Ketchikan is home to a rich Tlingit and Haida culture, which can be fully explored at Totem Bight State Park, the home of 15 intricate totem poles and a clan house.
To reach the state park we hopped on a city bus ($1 one way, $2 for a day pass) that departs near the pier. After a 15-minute scenic drive north along the ocean we arrived at Totem Bight State Park.
The park is situated right in the midst of Alaskan beauty. Bears, eagles, wolves, deer, and ravens call this area home, while the bays and inlets are filled with whales, sea lions, otters, and salmon. These animals are all symbolic to the Haida and Tlingit culture and have been preserved into their totem poles.
The totem poles here were sourced from abandoned native villages and then restored. Each carving tells a unique story. Ravens usually symbolize either a hero or trickster, while eagles symbolize friendship and peace. Orcas, or killer whales, signify strength.
A clan house of this size could have housed 30 to 50 people. Traditionally clan houses served as a home for several families of a particular lineage. Although this structure is not original, it was built as a representation of the type of clan houses that were built in the early 19th century in many Native villages.
Belonging to the "Thunder House" people, this totem symbolizes thunder. Four brothers were changed into "Thunderers" and like the Thunderbird, they created thunder and lightning and lived high in the sky and on mountain tops.
INFO & GETTING THERE
Totem Bight State Park is located approximately 15-20 minutes drive north of Ketchikan on the North Tongass Highway. It is easily accessible by car or public transit. A one-way bus ticket costs $1, while a day pass (unlimited) only costs $2. The park is free to visit and enjoy.