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Haida Totem Pole
Haida Totem Pole, after 1850, wood, malacite, pigments, Gift of George Rickey, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 97.169.1

The wealthy Native people of the Northwest Coast developed complex social and religious systems and acquired remarkable artistic skills. Men were particularly noted for their carving skills and women for weaving. Although many ceremonial and religious objects were created, most objects were made for the express purpose of proclaiming the wealth and status of important families. The most famous of the many Northwest Coast art forms is the totem pole. Bearing animal crests, the carved totem stood before a planked house in a seaside village, proclaiming the ancestry of its owners.


The Potlatch
Although everyone participated in the accumulation of wealth, the principal property owners among the Northwest Coast people were chiefs and nobles. These wealthy people were obligated to give away their material goods in elaborate ceremonies called potlatches, which were held in the winter to celebrate a special event, like a wedding or birth. The measure of a man's prestige in Northwest Coast society was the quantity of possessions he had to give away. But the potlatch was more than an opportunity to display wealth and enhance one's status. It was also a means of redistributing wealth within a stratified society.

More about the Northwest Coast Indians.

Rattle Makah Basket Transformation Mask Native Amercan History and Culture


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