Native American Totem Animals & Their Meanings

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family or individual. Some Native American tribe’s tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her through life, acting as guides.

Different animal guides, also called spirit guides and/or power animals, come in and out of our lives depending on the direction that we are headed and the tasks that need to be completed along our journey.

These tribe’s beliefs further explain that a totem animal is one that is with you for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides throughout their lifetimes, it is this one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit.

With this one animal, a connection is shared, either through an interest in the animal, characteristics, dreams, or other interactions.

This Animal Guide offers power and wisdom to the individual when they “communicate” with it, conveying their respect and trust. This does not necessarily mean that he or she has actually touched or spent time with this animal, more that, they are open to learning its lessons.

For some, knowing what is their totem animal is almost an innate process. It’s as if they’ve always known, inexplicably drawn to the animal or having a special feeling for the animal’s energy. For others, they wonder how to tell what their animal totem is.

Totem carving in Alaska

Totem carving in Alaska

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering what your animal totem is:

  • Have you ever felt drawn to one animal or another without being able to explain why? This could be any type of living creature, including birds and insects.
  • Does a certain kind of animal consistently appear in your life? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical appearance, it could be represented in other ways, such as receiving card and letters with the same animal pictured over and over, unexplainable dreams of a particular animal, watching television and seeing the same animal featured time and time again, or, actually having the animal show up.
  • When you go to the zoo, a park, wildlife area, or forest, what are you most interested in seeing?
  • Are there any animals that you find to be extremely frightening or intriguing?
  • Is there a particular animal that you see frequently when you’re out in nature?
  • Have you ever been bitten or attacked by an animal?
  • Have you ever had a recurring dream about a certain animal or a dream from childhood that you have never been able to forget?
  • Are you drawn to figurines or paintings of a specific animal?

If you still need more help, ask the Universe for a dream or a vision to see if anything comes up. Also ask the animal to show itself to you and pay attention to what you begin to see from all sources — television, books, billboards — it doesn’t have to be the actual animal. Does one animal begin to appear frequently?

Native American Symbols, TotemsOne thing to remember is that you cannot choose your totem spirit, rather it chooses or has already chosen you. The Spirit chooses you and they decide to whom they will reveal themselves. Much of the process of identifying your spirit animal is paying attention to both your past and your present. It is a process of developing your inner knowledge and spiritual understanding.

The totem itself is a symbol that represents this animal. This could be any number of items – a crest, a totem pole, an emblem, a small figurine, and engraved or painted stone, or anything else that depicts your animal guide.

Note:  Native American totems did not include all of the animals listed below, as many of these creatures did not exist in North America; or, in some cases, not at all (such as the unicorn.) However; the concept of “totems,” by whatever name they were called, have been known throughout the world since the earliest days of Greek Mythology. Though the unicorn and dragon are generally accepted as centuries old mythical creatures of Europeans, pictures of these fabled animals have been found in Native American tapestries and pictographs. It is also worth noting that not all Native American tribes held these beliefs.

Thunderbird Totem Pole

Thunderbird Totem Pole


Maternal, revenge oriented, quickness, aggression, stealth, efficiency, basic survival instincts.


Group minded, determination, patient, active, purposeful, unity, self sacrifice and industrious.


Lethargy, curiosity, nosiness, ability to smell out trouble, rooting around for solutions, finding the lost.


Active, agile, jumpiness, keen eyesight, survival, willing to sacrifice, mental clarity, intuitive, protective.


Safety, grounded, sensitivity to attack, strong boundaries, trusting, reclusive, neutral, peaceful.


Courage, aggressive, healer, problems relating to others, energy conduit, determined, focused, confident.


Rebirth, longevity, secrecy, initiation, good listener, long life, illusion, journeying, inner depth.

Countless Indian words have become a part of the English language. Just a few of these include: barbecue, cannibal, caribou, chipmunk, chocolate, cougar, hammock, hurricane, mahogany, moose, opossum, potato, skunk, squash, toboggan, and woodchuck. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia


Industrious, instinctive, healing, power, sovereignty, guardian of the world, watcher, courage, will power, self-preservation, introspection, and great strength.


Determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, dreamer, protector, builder, motion, subconscious.


Organized, industrial, productive, wise, community, celebration, fertility, sweetness, defensiveness, obsessive nature, and enjoys life.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download


A very powerful totem – prosperity, spiritual strength, organized, balanced complacency and activity, fearless.


Sacredness, life, great strength, abundance, gratitude, consistency, blessings, stability.


Insight into the past, fertility, raw expression, rushing into things, confidence, strength, provision.


Metamorphosis, transformation, balance, grace, ability to accept change, lightness, soul, vulnerability.


Survival, endurance, obedience, nobility, positive, accomplishment, adaptive, temperance, humility.



Traveler, mobility, preference to be nomadic, adaptability to adversity, sensitivity, guidance, surety.


Guardianship, detachment, sensuality, mystery, magic, independence, astute, watchful.


Swiftness, insight, focus, brotherhood, self-esteem, acceleration, elusiveness.


Leadership, loyalty, courage, taking responsibility, foresight, sensing danger, awareness.


Love of home, community, contentment, joy, easy going, patience, grounded, fertility.


Trickster, intelligence, stealth, wisdom and folly, guile, innocence, skill.


Swift and decisive, power of life and death, transformation, energy, connected to eternity.


Good luck, moves sideways, savvy, unorthodox, relaxed, cycles.


Solitude, justice, longevity, independent, intelligent, vigilant, focus.


Ensuring your emotions are displayed accurately/appropriately.

There were an estimated 18-20 million Native Americans living in the United States when Europeans first arrived. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia


Magical, shape shifting, change, creativity, spiritual strength, inelegancy, energy, higher perspective.


Compassion, peace, intellectual, gentle, caring, kind, subtlety, gracefulness, femininity, gentleness, innocence, and seller of adventure.


Noble, faithful, loyal, teaching, protection, guidance, obedience, sensory perception.


Kind, salvation, wisdom, happiness, playfulness, prudent, capable of deep emotion, and happy.


Cross-world communication, spirit messenger, peace, gentleness, love.


Longevity, richness, prosperity, infinity, wisdom, power, fiery, mythic.


Flighty and carefree, strong imagination, higher aspirations, lightness, joy, transformation.


Water energy, helper of seers, affectionate, community oriented, can clearly see/deal with emotions.


Divine spirit, sacrifice, connection to creator, intelligence, renewal, courage, illumination of spirit, healing, creation, freedom, and risk-taker.


Strength, power, affection, loyalty, royalty, wisdom, reliability, sense of history, pride.


Strength, agility, pride, majestic, independence, purification, nobility, sensual.


New beginnings, adventure, passionate, leadership, rising above, guardianship, superiority, prophecy.


Graceful, slyness, open-minded, quick to change one’s mind, fertility, good luck, happiness.


Heart healing, psychic, people person, flirtatious, colorful, open, power of illusion.


Cunning, agility, quick-witted, diplomacy, wildness, feminine magic of camouflage, shape-shifting and invisibility.


Water, cleansing, rebirth, sensitivity, medicine, hidden beauty, peace, adaptability, metamorphosis.

Throughout the United States, there are thousands of pictographs and petroglyphs with the greatest concentration in the American Southwest. The site that has the most is the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico. At the monument, archaeologists have estimated there may be over 25,000 petroglyph images along the 17 miles of escarpment. – from our Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs


Awareness, speed, grace, eagerness, lightness, overcomes vulnerability, alert.


Intelligence, intuition, attaining the unreachable, sees the future, elegance, cleverness, beauty.


Surefootedness, stubbornness, independence, diligence, in the moment, aloofness, virility, sturdiness.


Self-demanding, reliable, prudent, rigid, vigilance, parenthood, productive, teamwork, fellowship.


Family-oriented, intelligence, strength, environmental protector, keeps peace through aggression.


Good luck, abundance, forward, progressive, virtuous, forward thinking, creative.


Personal power, enlightenment.


Messenger, intuition, victory, healing, nobility, recollection, cleansing, visionary power, and guardianship.


Aggressive, self-determined, self-reliant, multi-tasking, balanced, calm, present, independent.


Power, creation, imagination, healing, birth, mother-fury, protection of family, emotion depth.


Freedom, stamina, mobility, the land, travel, power, freedom, grace, nobility.


Messenger, timelessness, healing, warrior, energy, vitality, infinity, affection, playfulness.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download


Chaos, shape-shifter, aggressiveness, power, confidence, manifestation, breath.


Forward, balance, creative, stamina, leaping away from danger, nurturing, generous.


Family, strength, energy, courage, guardian, protector, ferocity, authority.


Conservation, vision, self-protection, hidden defenses, shrewdness, variation.


Comforting to others, secure, responsible, strength, adaptation, hard work, curiosity.


Keeper of secrets, guardian, listener, guide, aware, intuitive, unconventional.

Plains Tribes by George Catlin

Plains Tribes by George Catlin

More than 50% of state names are based on Native American words. Twenty-seven state names have Indian meanings including Utah, named for the Ute tribe; Kentucky, which means planted field in the Iroquois language; Kansas, named for the Kanza (Kaw) tribe; and dozens more. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia


Community, precise vision, good boundaries, lively, courageous, intuition, heart energy.


Sensitivity, guidance, searching, extended senses, underworld, hidden treasure, digger.


Good boundaries, good defense, courage, cleansing, heart-forward, rebellious, impulsive, authentic.


Ability to change the environment, health, success, light and dark, communication, swiftness, energy.


Headstrong, longevity, steadfastness, wisdom, self-esteem, primal feminine energy.


Innocence, scrutiny, order, organizer, eye for details, grounded, super-aware, temerity.


Intelligence, camouflage, nocturnal.


Smart, clever, sensible, grounded, group-minded, proper use of deception, strategic, surprising.


Grounded, practical, avoidant, spiritual truth, understands denial, truth and justice.


Playful, friendly, dynamic, joy, helpfulness, sharing, love of young, sensibility without suspicion.


Wisdom, deception, intuition, insight, messenger, mystery, freedom, secrets, stealth, vision.


Sacrifice, chastity, faith, humble, self-denial, enduring, strong, magical.


Protection, hidden emotions, introspection, caution, careful decisions, multi-dimensional, dark and light.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download


Communication, beauty, guide for wisdom, mockery, language, prophecy, verbosity, promise.


Immortality, dignity, self-confidence, self-esteem, knowledge, refinement, beauty, sexuality, pride.


Resilient, unselfish, rising above, friendliness, responsible, safety, camaraderie, bounty.


Self-discipline, order, purpose, community-minded, grace, self-confidence, spiritual.


Innocence, companionship, trust, curious, imagination, good-natured, non-interference.

Prairie Dog

Swiftness, industrious, constructive, preparedness, common goals, retreat, family, digger.


Companion on journeys to other worlds, grace, silent power

Native Americans often served as guides in the exploration of America. Many of their trails became emigrant roads, which were later followed by the railroads. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia


Group-work, team play, creator of harmony and group tolerance, protectiveness (especially toward children)


Fertility, artistic, in motion, hyper vigilant, joyful, lives by own wits, steps through fear.


Curiosity, disguise, explorer, secret, night vision, cleanliness, dexterity, seeker.


Stoic, sensitive, persevering, curious, imaginative, new beginnings, change, life force.


Fertility, stealth, scavenging, intelligence, enjoys luxury, intelligent, wealth, success, drive.


Magical, introspective, self-realized, courageous, transformational, messenger, psychic, divination.


Wisdom, solitary, insightful, solid, good judgment, paradox, stamina, freedom, longevity.


Mental agility, speed, opportunistic, multi-tasking, energy, busy, accomplishment.


Persistence, honesty, strength, flamboyant, upward reaching, eager, cocky, watchful.


Proud, intense, confident, wisdom, inspiration, can swim upstream, rebirth, determined, spiritual desire.


Transforming, strong, inspiring, chaotic, passionate, altered perception, death and rebirth, seduction.


Versatility, loud, easy-going nature, creativity, laziness, resourceful, opportunistic, freedom.


Confidence and grace


Love, longing, dilemma, active imagination, creativity, protection during change, dreamer, good luck.


Prowess, perpetual motion, hunter, survival, warning signs, workaholic, savior, guardian, superiority.


Reputation, presence, strength, demands respect, sensual, steady, pacifism, taking your time.


Protective, aware, solitary, tender nature, androgyny, healing, sensitivity, time and cycles.


Impulsive, primal energy, shrewdness, rebirth, transformation, initiation, and wisdom.


Balance, wisdom, creativity, communication, networker, cyclical, crafty, fate, protection.


Planner, gatherer, preparedness, awareness, sociable, playful, energy, prudence, resourceful.


Lord of the forest, masculine power of regeneration, signs.


Grace, balance and innocence, soul, love, beauty, elegance, transformation, dreams.

There are approximately 296 spoken (or formerly spoken) indigenous languages north of Mexico. Hundreds of other have entirely ceased to exist. – from our Native American Facts & Trivia


Strength, valor, power, energy, devotion, tactful, royal, illuminated, unpredictable.


Inner strength, luck, self-examination.


Generosity, life-giver, sharer, abundance, blessings, pride, virility, sacrifice.


Nurturer, shy, protecting, patience, strength, innocence, endurance, longevity.

Native American Symbols, Totems

Native American Symbols, Totems & Their Meanings – Digital Download


Purity, innocence, dreamer, personal power, gentle, spiritual vision, other realms, faith, healing.


Strength, energy, ingenuity, stealth, wild, ferocious, aggressive, commanding.


Wisdom, provider, intelligence, kindness, deeper awareness, nurturing, navigator, communication.


Loyalty, perseverance, success, intuition, spirit, appetite for freedom, can be a loner.


Sensitive, protective, devotion, prophecy, progress, determination, balance, communication.


Clarity, motion, individuality, balance, illusion, instinct, free, wild, communal, playful, social.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, with expanded meanings and additions, Kevin Kaiser. updated May 2021.

Native American Totem Pole, 1895

Native American Totem Pole, 1895

Also See:

Healing Crystals and Stones

Indian Proverbs & Wisdom

Legends, Myths & Tales of Native Americans

Medicine Bags or Bundles

Native American Symbols, Pictographs & Petroglyphs


Hodge, Frederick Webb; Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico; Smithsonian Institution; 1910
Manataka American Indian Council
Mystic Familiar
Shaman Links