Throughout Ketchikan, totem poles abound. The region’s earliest visitors, Tlingit Natives, are said to have set up summer fishing camps along the shores of the creek that runs through the center of town, and the name Ketchikan likely derived from the Native word for the waterway.
Located along Ketchikan Creek, the indoor Totem Heritage Center features 33 original 19th-century totem poles collected from Tlingit and Haida Indian villages in the surrounding region.
At the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, located near Thomas Basin Harbor, visitors are greeted by three large totem poles in the lobby, where a school of silver salmon is suspended from the ceiling. The exhibition hall details the ecosystems of the Inside Passage as well as Native Alaskan traditions. A highlight: a video feed from underwater cameras in Ketchikan Creek, which showcases a unique perspective of salmon struggling their way upstream to spawn.
To immerse yourself in Ketchikan’s Native culture and learn about the three indigenous Pacific Northwest Indian tribes who lived off the region’s spoils for thousands of years, visit Saxman Native Village and Totem Park or Potlach Totem Park.
Located a few miles south of downtown, Saxman is home to an extensive collection of authentic and replica totem poles, as well as a replica clan house and carving center. A number of sightseeing excursions make photo stops at the park, while others stay for a two-hour village tour led by an Alaska Native. The latter includes a Tlingit language lesson, a traditional drum-and-dance performance, a narrated tour, and a visit to the carving shed.
Potlatch Totem Park, set on the shores of the Tongass Narrows, is a modern interpretation of a Native village. A good portion of the carvings at the park were completed by Brita Alander, one of the world’s most renowned female carvers.