I'll start this off by saying that I have no idea what-so-ever a contested totem will entail being; however, with the way totems are currently set-up, I'm going to extrapolate that contested totems will be a way for limiting player involvement with the game world.
What I mean by this is that currently we are only allowed to build and terraform on land that is under influence from a totem that is owned by us or our tribe. As far as I'm concerned, that's fine with the way things are currently set-up (though I'm not a fan of them being able to be placed over non-floral resource nodes), but I do not think that "contested totems" should act like this. I think that in places where land and resources are openly contested, then terraforming and building should likewise be open.
Instead of saying "no," the developers should make it so that buildings and terraforming can be undone, but also be protected from being undone. This could be something as simple as increasing the amount of time and resources it takes to terraform to giving buildings enough hitpoints that it'd take a single person, or a few people, quite a bit of time to take a building down. Likewise we should be able to build defensive structures, such as archery towers, to defend our buildings.