totem pole

noun
1.
a pole or post carved and painted with totemic figures, erected by Indians of the northwest coast of North America, especially in front of their houses.
2.
a hierarchical system: the bureaucratic totem pole.

Origin:
1875–80

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World English Dictionary
totem pole
 
n
a pole carved or painted with totemic figures set up by certain North American Indians, esp those of the NW Pacific coast, within a village as a tribal symbol or, sometimes, in memory of a dead person

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

totem pole definition


Among some Native Americans, a pole on which totems are carved. The totem pole usually stands in front of a house or shelter.

Note: A totem pole is thought of figuratively as a symbol of a hierarchy: “Where does she stand on the totem pole?”
The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Example sentences
If that was true then, the bottom line is on top of the totem pole now.
The dedication and raising of a totem pole is accompanied by a great potlatch,
  a public feast often involving lavish gift giving.
The short answer is: if you are low on the totem pole the boss has the power so
  you have to do what he/she wants.
One yard has a carved wooden totem pole and at certain times of year they erect
  a huge teepee as well.
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