The background for this question is that I'm watching the latest episode of NCIS, and in this episode it is mentioned that the term "Low on the totem pole" actually is a good thing, reserved for the most honored carvings. As such, saying that someone is "pretty low on the totem pole" is a compliment, not a way of saying that you're low on rank or importance.
However, I haven't been able to find any sources online that says the same, and it seems most usages of the term use it in the meaning I thought it had, ie. low importance, rank, or similar.
So what is right?
Does the term "low on the totem pole" mean "low importance or rank", or does it mean "high importance or rank"?