Native American Talking Sticks


Last Updated: 11 years

 Deer Jaw Talking Stick
 Deer Jaw Talking Stick

Talking sticks were used in tribal councils and public meetings to maintain order. Whoever had the stick had the floor, and no one else was allowed to speak until the speaker passed the stick, indicating he had finished what he wanted to stay.

In Native American lore, the talking stick is said to impart the courage to speak the truth to the one who wields it. 

Silver Fox Talking Stick
Silver Fox Talking Stick or Dance Staff

Customarily, a few moments of silence were observed before the next to hold the stick began to speak, reinforcing the wisdom that it is good to think first before you speak in haste and say something you might regret.

While this item is usually referred to as a talking stick or talking staff, or perhaps a talking feather, other items may be used to represent the talking stick.

A feather, peace pipe, wampum belt, a sacred shell, or some other object may be used in different tribes to designate the right to speak.  Whatever the object, it carries respect for free speech and assures the speaker he has the freedom and power to say what is in his heart without fear of reprisal or humiliation or interuption.        

Some form of the talking stick was used in many tribes, but the tradition was especially prevalent in the West Coast tribes. 

Talking sticks made along the Northwest Coast are usually intricately carved wooden staffs, which can either bear a single crest at the top or be fully carved with heraldic clan crests of the chief or hereditary political spokesman. The staffs can include shell inlay.

These talking staffs resemble small totem poles and are still used ceremonially today.

At gatherings, especially potlatches, a chief or his designated speaker holds the talking stick when he is ready to publicly announce the day’s messages. The speaker thumps the stick on the ground for emphasis. This lets the crowd know it is time to be quiet and listen.

Northwest Coast Talking Staff or Chief's Staff
Northwest Coast Talking Staff or Chief’s Staff

Items added to a talking stick as decorations also enhance its power. An eagle feather tied to the talking stick gives the speaker courage and wisdom to speak truthfully and wisely. 

Rabbit fur on the end of the stick reminds him that his words must come from his heart and that they must be soft and warm. 

A deer bone or antler reminds the speaker to be gentle in his choice of words, that he might not offend and heat up the discussion to the point his listeners can no longer understand his words. 

 A blue stone will remind him that the Great Spirit hears the message of his heart as well as the words he speaks. 

The shell, iridescent and ever changing, reminds us that all creation changes — the days, the seasons, the years — and people and situations must change, too. 

The four colors of beads — yellow for the sunrise (east), red for the sunset (west), white for the snow (north) and green for the earth (south) — are symbolic of the powers of the universe he has in his hands at the moment to speak what is in his heart. 

Strands of hair from the great buffalo remind the speaker that his words must give sustenance to all who listen.  

Rabbit Fur Talking Stick
Rabbit Fur Talking Stick

Horse hair gives him stamina to perservere with a difficult speech, and strength to carry his words home to the heart of every listener.      

Talking sticks make a great teaching aide for children and a great tool for marriage councilors and meditation groups.