Chief Seattle’s Totem, The Tlingit’s Housepost and Hawaii

While in Washington my friend Ed sent me these photos of Chief Seattle’s grave site.


I was fascinated. Totems and Indians.These totems are of Cedar wood and painted in black and rust. They are carved by a Squaxin Island tribe member, Andrea-Wilber-Sigo.

Though I have heard of Seattle Washington I was totally ignorant of the Chief whom the city had been named after. I thought how interesting to see a totem at a grave site. I would have loved to have seen it up close. But then I remembered, we have a totem here in Hawaii that was actually made by Indians.

What does Hawaii have in common with Chief Seattle and the Tlingit’s in Alaska? Totems!

Chief Seattle

Image via Wikipedia

Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle was said to have given a very famous speech about our environment. Many have heard it or have heard some of it. In part it said ” the earth does not belong to man; but man belongs to earth.”

There is much controversy concerning this speech. Much of what we know today about Chief Seattle’s speech was actually written by a modern-day screen writer for a documentary. If you would like to read more about the speech you can go to (speeches)

I am calling him Chief Seattle but within the Puget Sound Indians there is no name such as chief. These particular Indians were powerful men who were known for accomplishing particular feats. Seattle was known as an intelligent and formidable leader, important and dangerous. He was nicknamed by the men at Hudson Bay Company as “Le Gros” or The Big One as noted for his physique and personality. He was a force to be reckoned with amongst his enemies.

Chief Seattle’s memorial


In his last skirmish where he effectively wiped out his rivals, one of his son’s was killed. This had such an affect on him that he turned to the Catholic Church where he was converted and his name was changed to Noe (Noah)  Siattle. In turn he had his whole family convert to Catholicism. This then ended his fighting days. It was at this time he turned to helping the American settlers and eventually sold large parcels of land to the government and became involved in business.  He then  became known as the friend of the white man. For more information you can go to this site

So how does this connect with Hawaii? Totem Poles were symbols of the North-West-Coast Native tribes. There were many types of poles. Some were house post that may have held up some part of the front of the house or inside as a main pole holding up the house. There were even free-standing poles in front of houses. Each pole would identify and give the history of the owner.

Western Washington tribes carved grave monuments such as what we see standing in front of Seattle’s grave site.

This is a house post carved by the Tlingit people of Alaska.

The voyaging canoe Hawaiʻi Loa was built with  Sitka Spruce given to the Hawaiian people by the Tlingit and Haida tribes of Alaska.

The above House Post was given by the Tlingit tribe to symbolize the merging of two cultures. It was carved by Nathan Jackson.  On the upper left arm if you look close at the Killer Whale carving you will see many long strands of human hair. The hair comes from someone who is part Hawaiian and part Alaskan who is a village member. Again symbolic of the merger. The two males in the carving are representative of the two cultures, Tlingit and Hawaiian. (Hawaiian on the right with the green Haku)

If you would like a little back ground on the voyage and photos you can go here

And where is this House Post? Why at Bishop Museum.

And last but not least, I love trivia and I thought you would enjoy this piece I found while doing my research

Myth: The “low man on the totem pole” has the lowest status.

Fact: There is no universal significance to the order in which figures are placed on poles. Occasionally “ridicule” figures were carved to shame or embarrass a rival. You can go to this site to see other tidbits.

10 comments on “Chief Seattle’s Totem, The Tlingit’s Housepost and Hawaii

  1. Anonymous First Nation says:

    As a First Nations person of North America I would like to correct your use of the word “Indian”. It is offensive to use that word in reference to the First Peoples of North America. Because we are not from India. From reading this post I understand that you are not familiar with us, thus I request you do a little more research before writing a public report on us next time. In replace of using “Indian” please use First Nations, Aboriginal, Indigenous or First Peoples as they are far more respectful than the term mentioned earlier. If you wish to be loose with your words Native and Native American are acceptable as well. Also, please do your research on the whereabouts of the Haida and Tlingit fore they do not solely reside in Alaska.Thank you for your time.


    • As a child of the 40’s I only knew the term Indian. My Maternal grandmother used that term when warning my brother and sister to not tell anyone that they had Indian in them as she truly was afraid harm would come to them as they were moving from Colorado to California.

      At that point in time there were no PC terms such as Native American come First Nation. Just like people to this day chide me on the fact that I say I am Spanish and not Mexican (My Maternal Grandfather was born in New Mexico not Mexico) they always say to me that Spanish and Mexican are one and the same. I’ve not taken offense at their ignorance and would not have a tirade because of their lack of Knowledge. On my fathers side our ancestors come from Spain.

      My mom told me the stories of my grandfather and how proud he was of his heritage but I did not know much else.

      I was proud too though I never had much contact with my grandpa so did not ever ask mom from which people he came from. I know I am probably making you upset with the answers I am giving you and terms that I am using. But know this much. I never meant any disrespect and I stand corrected. I have encountered many, many indigenous people, from Australia, New Zealand and throughout the United States not to mention Hawaii and if I said something wrong they would politely correct me. I was always appreciative of the correction and still even in my blogs have people inform me and I thank them.

      I was referring to Washington and Alaska in my article and looked up and read about those two places and gave other information if one wanted to know more.

      I have in the past years come to learn that “Indians” have asked to be called native Americans and now want to be known as The First Nations and I’ve even read about being called the People Just as Hawaiians in ancient times called themselves.

      With all the ridicule and teasing I took as a child I was still proud of my two ancestries.I also knew when I said my name (Espinoza) I would be in for it. I never hid it. So I ask you. If you are so proud of who you are and how ignorant I am why do you sign your name as Anonymous?


      • Anonymous First Nation says:

        From reading your reply I have a better understanding of where you are coming from upon using the term “Indian”. It is near impossible most of the time to tell why someone maybe using such terminology. In my experience “Indian” has primarily been used as a term of disrespect. I was quick to correct you because of the seemingly little that is known about my people outside of the common stereotype. My only purpose in commenting on this article was to kindly correct you. I am grateful you responded in a similar respect. As to answer your question, signing my name as Anonymous was not a matter of shame but simply a matter of privacy. I added First Nation to the end to add to my point and so you knew where I was coming from. Thank you for responding.


  2. megtraveling says:

    Great post! I also enjoy fun facts and trivia, so thanks for including those, too 🙂


  3. ÇAĞATAY says:

    Ms. Karen;

    I also love and respect that Chief Seattle.

    Thank you …


  4. Sartenada says:

    OMG. This is high quality post which I do love! The text between photos is so interesting to me. It may sound curious that when saying that I am interested in Native Indians. The totem pole is incredible beauty. Carved wooden statues are my favorite. In Finland we have them plenty of them.

    What comes to Native Indians they have enriched my imagination my mind since my childhood.

    If You do not mind, I give my link to my post concerning:

    Indian life.

    Few years ago we had an excellent exhibition telling from Sitting Bull and generally the life of Native Indians. Think in Finland!

    Thank You Karen for this interesting post.


    • I am so happy you like this post. Please do connect this to your Indian site. I will take a look at that site too. The Hawaiian people and the Native Indians do have a lot in common. Of course it may not be totem poles per say. But in the loss of their lands and the treatment of the people. Of course they do have their carved figures each in their own style.

      Thank you for your comments.


  5. Ed Greer says:

    Good report Karen, and very imformative. You always make it interesting.
    The photographs were very professional too, LOL,


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