Create a Paper Totem Pole for Native American Heritage Month

finished paper totem pole craft

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s time to remember the legacy of not just the Pilgrims but also the Native Americans. After all, November is Native American Heritage Month(opens in a new tab), offering a great opportunity to show your child the importance of Native American culture. One way to help your children learn hands-on about Native American traditions is to have them construct their own paper totem pole while learning about the rich history of totem poles.

The History of Totem Poles

Reaching up to 175 ft., every totem pole tells a story. Most historians believe totem poles were used by Indian tribes on the east coast of the United States from Washington and into Canada to tell the story of the tribe’s lineage from one ancestor creature to the next. The Native Americans believed that they were descended from different animal species. As the Indian tribes began to move around and grow economically, totem poles became more common, reminding tribes of their rich heritage.

Totem poles were often made of red cedar trees and commonly placed outside of family homes in the community. Even today, carving totem poles is a time-honored tradition. With this craft, you can carve your own family tradition as you make a totem pole out of paper!

How to Make a Paper Totem Pole


  • cardboard tube
  • construction paper
  • glue stick or school glue
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • marker


  1. Use a sheet of brown construction paper to cover the cardboard tube. (An alternative is to color the tube with a brown crayon.)
  2. Cut shapes out of construction paper for the animals. It helps to draw the shapes in pencil first, and then cut out around the pencil lines.
  3. Larger shapes can be used for animal bodies, while smaller shapes can be used for the eyes, beaks, wing decorations, etc.
  4. Glue the animal parts together and allow the glue to dry.
  5. Stack the animals on the cardboard tube and glue them in place. On totem poles, the thunderbird is often at the top. The largest animal is usually on the bottom.
  6. You may choose an animal that you feel represents you and your family. There are many sites on the Internet that refer to totem poles and the meanings that the animals represent.

Some of the animals you can choose from include a dog, cat, cow, coyote, beaver, buffalo, eagle, turkey, horse, and many more. Just encourage your child to get creative and experiment with different colors and shapes when he or she constructs the animals.

Once the totem pole is complete, it can make a wonderful addition to your family’s Thanksgiving decorations. If you have any additional tips on how to make a paper totem pole, share your ideas in the comments below!

See PDF for images

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