Spirit Animals and Totem Animals are two separate concepts many constantly confuse. Some even seem to think the two are interchangeable. Some have even tried to use the two to draw comparisons to a Witch's Familiar, but the concepts are all very different.
The word "Totem" actually comes from the Anishinaabe word "Doh-Daym" (spelled Dodem) meaning "Clan". Your Clan animal represents which family is in your lineage and what skills you are expected to master in order to serve the tribe (these days, the community). There is nothing mystical in the way a First Nations person receives their Clan animal. Depending upon whether the tribe is Matrilineal (tracing a member's lineage through their mother's side of the family) or Patrilineal (tracing through the father) a Clan is decided at birth. The animal you are given represents the skills you will learn throughout your life. For instance: I am Bear Clan. The Bear represents a master medicine worker as the Bear knows what herbs and plants to dig up when it is ill. It also represents a tireless warrior and protector. These are the skills I bring to the table for my people. In the case of adoption or a Caucasian parentage, there usually is a Clan that serves as the "adoption Clan" and takes in members. The Anishinaabe are Patrilineal, and since my fiancee's father is Caucasian, he is Eagle Clan or a member of the adoption clan.
There *are* mystical channels a person can go through to find their Clan if their mother or father's lineage is unknown. I had the unfortunate circumstance of being a member of a Patrilineal tribe and having my Anishinaabe heritage passed down through my grandmother's family. I had to go to what is known as a "shaking tent", or a place where a Medium speaks to the spirit world on your behalf. I asked him to find my Clan. Others go to Medicine People, or simply dream their clan.
No one who is non-native can have a clan or totem animal. This is *specific* to those who are First Nations by blood. Since your Clan animal was also used as a way to avoid incest (as anyone of the same Clan could not marry) a non-tribal person has no need for a Clan animal. It is also used as something that is specific to your *service* in regards to your people...if you aren't a member of the tribe why would you have any obligations to them? There *do* exist special cases in which a Non-Native person is adopted into a tribe's adoption clan whether it be through marriage or some extreme act of service they've done on a tribe's behalf.
Spirit animals are an entirely different concept that can be applied with or without First Nations lineage. A Spirit animal is a personal guide which can take many forms and have many purposes. For Instance, one of my friends (who is Scandinavian in lineage) has a wolf as her spirit animal. She has always had a fascination with them since childhood and has had many run-ins and dreams in which they have visited her. Other people have Spirit Animals that arrive in times of need or reflection.
How can you tell if you have a spirit animal or who they are? They way it has always been explained to me is that the animal in question has to be behaving out of the ordinary in order for it to be considered legit. If you like moose a lot and just find them interesting that doesn't count. But if a moose came and stood outside your front door and snorted at you...that would be a pretty huge clue. It has to be something outside of their nature, some way in which they reach out specifically to you. While I'm not sure if I have a spirit animal I have wondered if mine might be the Deer. I've had many strange run-ins with them such as them walking right up to me out of the woods, surrounding my dorm building and so on.
Spirit Animals should be thought of more as patron animals. They support you and guide you when the going gets rough or when you're just not SEEING something right in front of your face.
So I hope this has helped everyone understand these concepts a little better. They are individual and important to my people and very important not to accidentally mix up!
The above was written by a dear friend of mine and posted at http://realpagan.net/group/firstnationsspirituality/forum/topics/spirit-animals-vs-totem
The best way to communicate with your animal totems and spirit guides is to meditate. Do a meditation on trying to meet them. Then, once you have met them you would want to keep meditating to communicate and eventually you will be able to communicate without meditating.
Also once you think you have found your animal totem and/or spirit guide, see what you can find out about the animal. What are its hunting habits, living habitats, and everything you can find it. This will bring you closer to your animal(s).
Before, you meditate try to clear your mind and try not to have any pre-made decisions. This allows your true animal to come forth.