The first totem poles were carved from mature cedar and used by family-clans in Potlatch ceremonies. The word totem comes from the Ojibwe language word "odoodem" which means "his kinship group," or brother, sister, kin. Each totem pole contains designs and symbols that are carved emblems of the chief's family and tell a story to remind members of their family history. The totem pole is carved and painted with family or clan emblems, crests and figures which represent mythic beings. It is generally erected in front of or near a dwelling. Often the meanings of the symbols and story they told were known only by the members of the particular clan or the artist.
Totem poles are very tall statues carved from large, mostly Western Red Cedar trees. Totem poles exist primarily in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and British Columbia areas. Symbols were constructed primarily by Northwest Coast tribal groups including the Tlingit, Kwakiutl, Haida, Tsimshian and Chilkat.