Totem poles were carved and painted by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. A totem is an animal, plant, or object sacred to a particular family or clan. These totems serve as guardian spirits which protect the members of tribes or clans both collectively and individually. The totem animal is sacred, and it is taboo to kill it. Totem poles incorporate the totems to symbolize the people or memorialize the dead.
Here is a photo of a totem pole from Sitka, Alaska (ca. 1940s); in the center is a small souvenir Alaskan pole (about 12" high, cast of composotion wood); and at right is a picture postcard showing "A group of interesting poles in Saxman Park, Ketchikan, Alaska" (undated, ca. 1970).