I recently recieved a letter from my daughter, who had left the reservation in frustration a year ago to seek a new life as an artist in San Francisco. She wrote to tell me how hard her life is there, and that she wishes to come home, but is afraid and ashamed to. When she left, we were not on good terms. I sent her a small silver and turquoise pendant on a thin silver chain. My grandfather smithed the pendant many years ago, in the same shop I work in now. It's worth almost as much as my new truck, as the mine the stone came from ran dry almost thirty years ago. The stone has been in our family since it came out of the ground and my grandfather's brother carved it into a perfect oval. It is my most prized personal possession. The package also contained this wise:

silver chain
turquoise inlay
just a necklace
for my daughter
left for progress
down on luck now
left behind her

silver chain
little package
stamped and ready
sending outward
gift of family
song of sorrow
take this totem
keep it with you

when you need it
you'll remember
songs of brothers
waiting for you
back at home at
left behind, but
ever loving.

when you need it
home is waiting
arms are open
to embrace you
take this totem
keep it with you
know I love you
only daughter.


A Totem falls along the same lines as a fetish. It is the picture or object used to signify a family or a singular person. Totem poles are usually the culmination of animal spirits that a family associates itself with or uses to symbolize them. The more European version of this would be the coat of arms.

Example: When my parents went to Alaska, they went searching for a ring for me. They found a totem eagle that looks as it has ears, like a griffin, which consequently, is the one creature on our coat of arms. My family totem is the griffin.

To"tem (?), n. [Massachusetts Indian wutohtimoin that to which a person or place belongs.]

A rude picture, as of a bird, beast, or the like, used by the Nord American Indians as a symbolic designation, as of a family or a clan.

And they painted on the grave posts Of the graves, yet unforgotten, Each his own ancestral totem Each the symbol of his household; Figures of the bear and reindeer, Of the turtle, crane, and beaver. Longfellow.

The totem,the clan deity, the beast or bird who in some supernatural way attends tothe clan and watches over it. Bagehot.


© Webster 1913.

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