The talking stick is a native American tradition used to keep order during meetings. It has been adapted by other groups, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, the neo-pagan movement, 1960s consciousness raising gatherings and even classrooms. Authentic native American talking sticks use decorations that have specific meanings. Some of the traditional items may be difficult to obtain. Even though you may need to use substitutes, your talking stick and its decorations should have meaning to you and the other people using it.
Take a nature walk in an area where it is acceptable to collect wild items. If the stick is to be used with a specific group, such as a scout troop or classroom, it might be fun to make this a field trip to a neighbourhood farm. Be sure to ask permission before walking around on private property.
Look for natural items that can be used in creating your talking stick. Dead wood that has fallen from trees or driftwood make interesting sticks. Pretty seeds, milkweed pods, and feathers that have been dropped by birds make good decorations.
Pack your nature gleanings carefully for the trip home so that they are not damaged. A sturdy shoebox or plastic tub make good travel containers.
Clean the stick with a soft cloth and slightly soapy water if needed. Peel away any rough bark. Let everyone take a turn sanding it smooth until it feels satiny when touched. Use wood carving tools or a wood burner to inscribe symbols and words that are special to the group.
Have the group brainstorm character attributes they would like the speaker to have, such as honesty, clarity, understanding and patience. Ask them to pick out decorations to symbolise those traits.
Traditionally, a talking stick would have leather wrappings, but ribbon or cord will do. Attach some of the decorations to the ends of the wrappings, attach some of them directly to the stick. Tacky craft glue, hot glue or basic white school glue can be used to secure the items. Leave a smooth space on the stick to act as a handle.
Ask the group to sit in a circle. Explain that communication has two parts: speaking and listening. Only the person holding the talking stick is allowed to speak. Everyone else needs to listen respectfully.
The group leader will hold the stick first and explain the problem or idea. She will then pass the stick to one of the listeners. When that person has finished speaking, the stick is passed to another person.
Group members should be reminded before the discussion begins that they should listen closely so that they do not repeat ideas already put forth. Also, they must wait their turn to speak, and not shout out opinions, even if they do not agree with the speaker.
Successful use of a talking stick depends on the group's commitment to respecting the rules.
Tips and warnings
- Successful use of a talking stick depends on the group's commitment to respecting the rules.
- TESL: The Talking Stick: An American Indian Tradition in the ESL Classroom by Kimberly Fujioka, 1998
- How to Make a Talking Stick by Dale Pendell, 2010.
- First People:The Legends: The Talking Stick
- Talking Stick and Talking Sticks
- Making Friends: Native American Talking Stick
- Girl Scout Troop Management Mini Training, 2007.