Talking Stick Symbolism & Principles

Talking Stick Symbolism & Principles

Adapted from the Indigenous Corporate Training Blog

The Talking Stick, also called a speaker's staff, is an instrument of aboriginal democracy used by many tribes, especially those of indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America. The talking stick may be passed around a group or used only by leaders as a symbol of their authority and right to speak in public.

In a tribal council circle, a talking stick is passed around from member to member allowing only the person holding the stick to speak. This enables all those present at a council meeting to be heard.

Talking sticks have high ceremonial and spiritual value, and have proved to be exceedingly useful during current implementations.

First Nation Talking Stick Protocol 

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, has 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 use an eagle feather, wampum belt, peace pipe or sacred shell.

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. 

It is important to remember that each First Nation is unique in their culture, traditions and history. If you are invited to attend a meeting that involves a Talking Stick, either ask about protocol in advance and/or follow the lead of others. 

Basic rules:
  • 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.

First Nation Talking Stick Symbolism 

First Nation Talking Stick symbolism carries deep spirituality and tradition. While each First Nation’s culture, traditions and history is unique, there are some shared or common symbolism attached to animals, birds, trees and colours. For instance, the eagle is almost universally considered, by both Aboriginal People in Canada and Native Americans, to be the ruler of the sky with a connection to the Creator.

The Muses


The wood chosen is selected for its carving attributes and spirituality. Ceremonies around seeking permission from the tree spirit to make the talking stick are frequently practiced. Here’s a sampling of some tree varieties and their associated symbolism. Note: some are found outside regions of Canada.

  • Arbutus = knowledge
  • Aspen = seeing clearly
  • Beech = tolerance
  • Birch = truth
  • Cedar = cleansing
  • Cherry = high emotions/new awakenings
  • Elm = wisdom
  • Maple = gentleness and sweetness
  • Mountain Ash = protection
  • Oak = strength
  • Walnut = focus
  • White pine = peace


For the purpose of this aspect, we are focussing on the First Nations of the Northwest coast of Canada and what each creature symbolises.

  • Eagle =  grace, power, and great intellectual abilities. 
  • Bear = great self-awareness, family and strength
  • Whale =  kindness, intelligence and compassion
  • Raven = change in life, creativity, and humor
  • Frog = cleansing, peace and rebirth
  • Wolf = perseverance, intuition and success
  • Salmon = symbolizes instinct, determination and persistence
  • Hummingbird = beauty, intelligence, and love
  • Butterfly = metamorphosis, balance and grace
  • Beaver = good work ethics, a strong will and protector, with a strong sense of family
  • Dragonfly = change, transformation and swiftness
  • Thunderbird = administering law and protocol


Some cultures stain their talking sticks, others paint them. 

  • Black = clarity, success
  • Blue = intuition, wisdom
  • Green = nature, harmony
  • Orange = kinship, intellect
  • Purple = power, magic
  • Red = life, happiness
  • Yellow = knowledge, courage
  • White = purity, spirit


Feathers, animal skins and beads are the most frequently used adornments. 

  • Eagle feathers embody truth and high ideals 
  • Turkey feathers embody peaceful attitudes, especially during differences of opinion 
  • Owl feathers embody power and prevention of deception from entering the meeting

If you are present at a ceremony or meeting that involves a Talking Stick, there is an expectation to respect the spirituality and tradition that is infused in its creation.

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