First Nation Talking Stick Protocol

January 20, 2015

The Talking stick, used in many Indigenous cultures, is an ancient and powerful “communication tool” that ensures a code of conduct of respect during meetings is followed. The person holding the stick, and only that person, is designated as having the right to speak and all others must listen quietly and respectfully.



Talking sticks are most frequently used in council circles, ceremonies and at the beginning of cultural events such as potlatches, and in storytelling circles. Some cultures do not use a Talking Stick per se but use an eagle feather, wampum belt, peace pipe or sacred shell.

A great many schools have adopted the Talking Stick principles in their classrooms as a way to teach children patience, self-discipline and to respect the speaker and his/her words. The added bonus is the children additionally are learning about First Nation culture in a tangible way.

In terms of First Nation Talking Stick protocols, it is important to remember that each First Nation is unique in their culture, traditions and history so will have their own protocols. In this article we are speaking of general protocols.

If you invited to attend a meeting that involves a Talking Stick, either ask about protocol in advance and/or follow the lead of others. Here are some basic rules that if you follow you won’t go far wrong:

  • If an Elder is present, they speak first

  • All in attendance are expected to listen

  • Listen with respect, support, compassion and quietness

  • Listen carefully - do not repeat information that has already been shared

  • Allow ample time before your next appointment - do not check your watch

  • Turn off your phone

  • Interrupting is not allowed

  • When the Elder, or whomever, is holding the talking stick has finished speaking, the stick is handed to the next person in the circle

  • If the receiver does not wish to speak, it is passed to the next person

  • If you are handed the Talking Stick and wish to speak, introduce yourself first

  • When everyone who wishes to speak has spoken, the Talking Stick is handed back to the Elder for safekeeping

  • Consider bringing a gift of tobacco for any Elders who may be in attendance

Talking Sticks can be elaborately carved, brightly painted, unpainted, adorned with symbolic items such as fur, leather, feathers or unadorned and simple - the wood, the figures, the colours and the adornments all carry meaning but more on symbolism in another article.

Kinda makes one wish our politicians used the Talking Stick and time honoured protocols to guide their meetings.

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Topics: Indigenous Arts and Culture

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