"Have you heard the expression "low man on the totem pole?" It describes someone of little importance or esteem. But traditionally, the bottom figure on a totem pole is the most important one. The head carver is in charge of this portion of the totem (the bottom 10 feet) since it is most visible and more detailed than the higher regions"
"Vertical order of the images is believed to be a significant representation of importance...so important that "Low Man on the Totem Pole" has much less prestige and importance than the ones above. Having said that, there are poles where the more important images ARE at the bottom or in the middle. Of course, there is a BUT...a totem pole is carved by a chief carver and apprentices. The lower part of the totem pole is the part most often looked at. To make sure the totem looks professional and well-executed, the chief carver personally carves the bottom ten feet of the pole...the inexperience apprentices carve the higher part. BOTTOM LINE...the most intricate and best carved figures are usually placed on the bottom."
Just a little bit of fun trivia, since I've seen people use "bottom of the totem pole" as a pun against short men. Yes, there were times and places where our "taller is better" hierarchy did not apply. Crazy, I know.
Further reading: Low Man on the Totem Pole