Published by University of Washington Press (Seattle/London) & Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, BC) 2010
"The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History"
"The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History" By Aldona Jonaitis & Aaron Glass University of Washington Press (Seattle/London) & Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, BC) 2010
By Aldona Jonaitis & Aaron Glass
University of Washington Press (Seattle/London) & Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, BC) 2010
Review by Mary-Beth Laviolette
Standing tall and instantly recognizable in its connection to the culture of west coast First Nations, the totem pole has more than its share of misinformation attached to it. The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History aims to set the record straight by exploring the object’s rich and varied history within the context of west coast Native culture and the wider public domain of film, advertising, mass media and tourism.
It’s a tangled legacy, and authors Aldona Jonaitis and Aaron Glass do an admirable job in separating fact from fiction. They blew a few holes through some of my own misconceptions, including the idea that totem poles have a spiritual significance. Not so. Nor is the top of a multi-figured pole always the most significant or important part. My favourite piece of enlightenment, though, was to read about a certain type of pole raised to challenge other rival chiefs. Known as “shame poles” or “ridicule” poles, their function, then, has not always been as benign as memorializing chiefs, displaying family crests or signifying a family’s social standing.
Both Jonaitus and Glass are anthropologists and they take this publication to another level by injecting into its narrative some of their own personal history and experience with the subject. Beyond the challenge of academic research, the two authors are fully invested in and moved by these monumental carvings.
They’ve also been willing to share the pages with other scholars, art historians and First Nations artists like Robert Davidson, Susan Point, Richard Hunt, Lyle Wilson, Bill Holm. Mary Anne Barkhouse and Ki-Ke-In, whose contributions widen the historic, cultural, and socio-political perspective. Generously illustrated, The Totem Pole also comes with seven appendices or lists of further information. For a 21st century overview on the totem pole and for anyone with an interest in the art form, this is a seminal work.