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Tain and his dad, Clifton, in front of the totem pole you can find on the next page

Nathaniel Wilder 

A Totem Pole Tradition

This Native American family is helping keep an ancient art alive.

As You Read: Look for some of the reasons totem poles are made. Underline them. 

THWACK! As Tain Guthrie walks up to his dad’s workshop, he hears the sound of a tool striking wood. He can’t wait to get inside. His dad is turning a giant log into a beautiful totem pole—and Tain gets to help. 

Tain and his dad, Clifton, live in Metlakatla, Alaska. They’re members of a Native American people called the Tsimshian (SIM-shee-ahn). The Tsimshian have a long history of carving totem poles and other wooden items. The Guthries are helping keep that tradition alive today.

THWACK! Tain Guthrie hears the sound of a tool striking wood. He is walking toward his dad’s workshop, and he can’t wait to get inside. His dad is turning a log into a beautiful totem pole. Tain gets to help! 

Tain and his dad, Clifton, live in Metlakatla, Alaska. They’re members of a Native American people called the Tsimshian (SIM-shee-ahn). The Tsimshian have a long history of carving totem poles and other wooden items. The Guthries help keep that tradition alive.

Carved With Pride

Nathaniel Wilder

The Tsimshian are native to parts of Alaska and western Canada. Like other Native American groups in those areas, they’re known for their wood carving skills. For hundreds of years, Tsimshian carvers have used red cedar trees to make canoes, masks, and more. 

Many Tsimshian carvers are especially proud of their totem poles, which they call pts’aan (puh-SAN). These tall columns have carvings of animals and other figures. They are created to tell stories, record events, or honor people or families.

“They have an important place in our culture,” explains Clifton. 

The Tsimshian are native to parts of Alaska and western Canada. Like other Native American groups in those areas, they’re known for their wood carving skills. For hundreds of years, Tsimshian carvers have used red cedar trees to make canoes, masks, and more. 

Many Tsimshian carvers are especially proud of their totem poles. They call these poles pts’aan (puh-SAN). These tall columns have carvings of animals and other figures. They are made to tell stories, record events, or honor people or families.

“They have an important place in our culture,” says Clifton.

Tree to Totem Pole

Making a totem pole can take months. Carvers begin by planning a design and picking a tree. Once a log is cut, they take off the bark. They smooth the wood with an ax-like tool called an adze (adz). 

Carvers use chain saws, knives, and other tools to create the design. Finally, they paint the pole and bring it to the place where it will stand. The community turns out for a ceremony called a totem pole raising. 

Making a totem pole can take months. Carvers begin by planning a design and picking a tree. Once a log is cut, they take off the bark. They smooth the wood with a tool called an adze (adz). It is like an ax.

Carvers use chain saws, knives, and other tools to make the design. Finally, they paint the pole and bring it to the place where it will stand. The community has a big ceremony called a totem pole raising.

Passing It On

Clifton has been a carver for 17 years. Now he’s excited to teach Tain. 

Like most kids, Tain is busy. He goes to school and plays Pokémon with friends. But he spends as much time as he can in his dad’s workshop. 

“I help with different things, like using the adze and painting,” he says. 

Tain dreams of becoming a carver like his dad. He loves carrying on a long tradition.

“It feels really good,” he told Scholastic News.

Clifton has been a carver for 17 years. Now he’s excited to teach Tain.

Like most kids, Tain is busy. He goes to school and plays Pokémon with friends. But he spends as much time as he can in his dad’s workshop.

“I help with different things, like using the adze and painting,” he says. 

Tain dreams of becoming a carver like his dad. He loves carrying on a long tradition.

“It feels really good,” he told Scholastic News.

  1. What is a tradition? What is one tradition that Tain Guthrie and his dad help keep alive?
  2. Why are totem poles created?
  3. Summarize the steps of carving a totem pole. Use details from the article and the sidebar “Carving a Totem Pole.”
  1. What is a tradition? What is one tradition that Tain Guthrie and his dad help keep alive?
  2. Why are totem poles created?
  3. Summarize the steps of carving a totem pole. Use details from the article and the sidebar “Carving a Totem Pole.”

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