Totem Pole at the
Northwest Maritime Center

Totem Pole at the Northwest Maritime Center

Content provided by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe

Port Townsend is well known for finely crafted wooden boats, and for the artisans who build them. This totem pole pays homage to both. The wooden boat building tradition began in this area long before the white settlers arrived. The S’Klallam People carved canoes from cedar logs that well served travelers, traders, fishermen, whalers, and warriors. To honor all the craftsmen of Port Townsend, the top figure carved on this pole is the Supernatural Carpenter. He was sent to earth to implement the wishes of Senx (the Sun), Ruler of the Land Above. The Supernatural Carpenter was engaged in painting and carving and shaping the world to make it ready for mankind. He was responsible for giving the arts to us, and has taught us how to carve and paint, build houses, make canoes, sing and dance, as well as methods of hunting, fishing, and basketry, etc. It is said that whenever an artist creates a design, it is the Supernatural Carpenter that gives them the idea.

The figure on the pole just below the Carpenter is the Spirit of the Cedar Tree. Western Red Cedar was called the “Tree of Life”. The working properties of cedar make it a choice wood for boat building. The S’Klallam name for this tree was Xpay, and it was a very useful tree to the aboriginal people of this region. From it they obtained the materials to provide themselves with shelter, clothing, tools and transportation. The cedars provided for these people from birth until death, from cradle to coffin.

The bottom figure on the pole represents T’Chit-a-ma-hun, or as he was known locally, Chetzemoka. He was born in 1808, and he eventually became a high ranking S’Klallam chief. He was known as a peacemaker and friend to the early settlers. He felt everyone would prosper more through peace and trade than by fighting one another. During the Indian Wars of the 1850’s, a gathering of tribal leaders proposed to drive the settlers out of the region. For ten days in 1857, he argued to spare their lives. At the end of each day, he signaled the settlers, letting them know the course of the debate. After ten days he was able to let them know the danger had passed and the threat of war was over. To commemorate this event, the citizens of Port Townsend placed a bronze plaque on the rock from which he had signaled them. The small figure at the bottom of this pole on which the carved figure of Chetzemoka stands, represents Sentinel Rock, the place from where he signaled to the settlers. Today a park in Port Townsend and a Washington State Ferry are named in his honor.

Just as Chetzemoka welcomed the early settlers in the 1800’s, today he stands on this totem pole, with his hands raised in a traditional gesture, welcoming visitors to Port Townsend.

Represented from the top:

Supernatural Carpenter
Spirit of the Cedar Tree
číčmәhán on Sentinel Rock

The Welcome Pole, Cedar Canoe (inside the Chandlery), and Coast Salish Canoe Culture interpretive sign are gifts from the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe to the Northwest Maritime Center, to celebrate their shared love and respect for the Salish Sea and the vessels that ply its waters.

The totem pole plays homage to millennia of finely crafted wooden boats and the artisans who built them.