Tlingit mortuary and memorial totem poles

Learn about two types of totem poles from the Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest Coast that memorialize individuals who have passed.

Mortuary Pole, Tlingit origin, 19th century, from Village Island, 16 x 2 feet (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska); and a Bear/Killer Whale Pole (memorial pole), Tlingit origin, 19th century, Village Island, 27 x 2 feet (Totem Heritage Center, Ketchikan, Alaska). Speakers: Teresa DeWitt and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank

Terms to know:

  • Tlingit
  • Totem pole
  • Tongass tribe
  • memorial vs. mortuary
  • Northwest Coastal peoples (Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian)
  • bentwood box
  • clan crest

Additional resources

Learn more about the Totem Heritage Center

Read more about totem poles from The Bill Reid Centre at Simon Fraser University

Learn about the Northwest Coast Village Project

Cite this page as: Teresa DeWitt, Totem Heritage Center Museum Attendant and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Tlingit mortuary and memorial totem poles," in Smarthistory, October 31, 2021, accessed March 3, 2024,