Proud Raven totem pole at Saxman Totem Park

A totem pole records Tlingit claims to land by acknowledging the first sighting of a white man, who is based on the likeness of Abraham Lincoln.

Proud Raven Totem Pole of the Taantʼa kwáan Gaanax.ádi clan of the Raven moiety, first carved in the 1880s, recarved c. 1940 as part of a CCC project, Saxman Totem Park, Saxman, Alaska. A Seeing America video; speakers: Dr. Emily Moore and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank. Gunalchéesh (thank you) to Joel Buchanan, clan leader of the Taantʼa kwáan Gaanax.ádi Tlingit, for permitting us to share his clanʼs story. Thank you to the City of Saxman for permitting us to record in the Saxman Totem Park.

This totem pole has long been known as the “Lincoln Pole” because of the likeness of Abraham Lincoln at the top; however, according to most Tlingit elders, it was a depiction of the first white man seen in Tlingit territory in the 18th century.  A century later, in the 1880s, a  man from the Gaanax.ádi Raven clan of the Tongass Tlingit commissioned the pole to commemorate his ancestorʼs pride to have seen this first white man (which had become a Gaanax.ádi crest), using a photograph of Abraham Lincoln as the model for a generic white man. It is important not only for these various readings of the crests but also because it claims Gaanax.ádi clan territory before the first white men came to their shores—territory that Tlingit men who were recarving the pole in the 1940s were trying to assert to the U.S. government as their sovereign lands.

Saxman Totem Park

New Deal projects in Saxman

Emily Moore, Proud Raven, Painting Wolf: Carving Alaska’s New Deal Totem Parks (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2020).

William Paul, “The True Story of the Lincoln Pole,” Alaska Journal, volume 1, number 3 (Summer 1971), pp. 2–16.

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Emily Moore, "Proud Raven totem pole at Saxman Totem Park," in Smarthistory, August 25, 2021, accessed April 24, 2024,