How to make a totem pole

Updated February 21, 2017

A totem pole is an art form used to tell stories or depict people. You can make a totem pole from carving wood as Native Americans have done for ages or by using many other materials such as cardboard, bottles and aluminium cans. This activity can be done alone or with helpers. It's great as a classroom, family or camping project.

Determine how many characters you want for your totem pole. Characters are often animals or fish, but since it's your art, you decide. If you want to make a totem pole that tells a story, you might look at each container as a paragraph.

Collect the containers you want to use for each of your characters. They can be different containers or identical.

Tape the containers together using the masking tape or duct tape.

Use the marker to draw the outline of wings or limbs that you want to add to the characters on your totem pole.

Cut the shapes out using scissors. Tape the cut outs to the containers, which you've already taped together.

Cover everything on your totem pole with papier mache using your preferred recipe. Newspaper strips dipped in half white glue and half water is one way.

Paint your characters using different colours after the papier mache dries.


If using different types of containers, always put the heaviest of them on the bottom so your totem pole won't be top heavy.


Always supervise children with scissors.

Things You'll Need

  • Containers
  • Masking tape or duct tape
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Papier mache
  • Water-based paints
  • Paintbrushes
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