Thank you Lark. Well put.
Not all Native Americans have totems either. Although, as defined totems are commonly found historically around the world in many tribal cultures.
Totem is basically a physical representation of something. It can be symbolic and intangible (an idea) like an animal, that a group or individual identifies with. But it is generally expressed in a physical object designed in a way that signifies some form of identification. Totem poles for instance tell a form of story/history of the people they represent, and tend to have carved into them the faces of various beings with spiritual significance that the people (as a society) identify with. Understand, these people didn't have photos, websites, tv, books, etc. Totems were their way to create an image for all to witness. Honestly, I feel they have very little place in modern society as they were traditionally used. We have our own ways now--written records, photographs, video, etc to visually express ourselves, our histories, our wisdom and our beliefs. I think people make them out to seem far more "mystical" then they really are.
People still use the idea of totems to a lesser extent (in profane ways) such as school mascots, state birds, etc.