Legend of the Talking Feather

When Grandfather Speaks By Artist Alfredo Rodriguez. Photo site- American Gallery.

Significance of The Talking Feather / Talking Stick

There are legends about how the Talking Feather / Talking Stick came to be, and many tribes take credit for these stories, so there are several versions.
Traditionally, the American Indians used the Talking Feather or Talking Stick as a method to insure organization during important council meetings among the tribes. The materials used for both Feather and Stick were important. The Sacred Feather was usually from an Eagle representing truth, freedom, wisdom, and keen insight. Some tribes believed in using the Feather from an Owl which represented protection, wisdom, and strong insight into truth. The Sacred Stick was made from the bark of trees such as the Oak (strength) the Elm (wisdom) and others. There were also embellishments and adornments made from the skins or hides from animals such as Elk (physical ability), Deer (gentleness), Buffalo (abundance) and the rabbit (ears for listening) and several other animals the various tribes felt were sacred. Color played an important role in the creations. Certain tribes held different meanings for each color. For example, red symbolizes blood of life, white symbolizes truth, purity, blue is for healing and so forth.
Each member was guaranteed a chance to speak their thoughts. The Feather or Stick was passed to each person, and while the speaker held this object, they could not be interrupted. Each member listened carefully to what was being said. Indian children were taught to listen carefully when someone speaks. In many historical photographs we can see the Talking Stick represented. Photos of a Talking Feather are rare.
Today, one of the most important skills we can teach our young children is that of listening. This method is still used in many American schools, especially with very young children. Although the object the speaker holds may not always be a Feather, or a Stick,  it is something equally symbolic to the children.  It is effective as a tool to teach children the benefits of listening to others.

Native American Talking Stick. Photo- Mission Del Rey

Native American Talking Stick. Photo- Mission Del Rey

The colors and decorations used on the Talking instruments carry significance and meaning, and are therefore important. Material such as Eagle feathers, buffalo hair or hide, rabbit fur, shells, stones, and colors (red, yellow, blue, white, green) each carries a specific meaning.

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This lovely talking feather, made by Bridget Eagle Feather (Mandan:Sioux) Photo- Southern Exposure.

A council or talking circle was a method used by Indians when there were matters of importance to discuss that concerned the tribe. The goal was to hold these meetings in an equal and non- threatening manner. All deserved an opportunity to speak, hence, the idea of the Talking Feather (or another object ) was used to insure each speaker had a chance to share his thoughts, without interruption or reprisal from the other members. The person holding the object spoke, and after he was through, the object was passed to their neighbor, who may speak or may  pass the object on to the next person.

*Biography of Artist Alfredo Rodriquez (1954-)

Legend of the Talking Feather: Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei Bestow the Gift of The Talking Feather

There are many legends about how the Talking Feather came to be.   Here is one of them to share with your students…

“Long years ago, when gods walked this earth and the land beyond, Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei, were together enjoying the warm summer day. It was a day when the crickets chirrupted in the waving, green grass,when they noticed a figure moving towards them.

As the figure approached closer Kanati said “Look, that woman is crying, what could be the matter?” “I can not imagine why anyone would cry on such a glorious day.” Replied Asgaya Gigagei. “Let’s ask her.”

As the woman drew nearer, they could see her buckskin was decorated with beautiful designs and colors. She carried a bundle filled with leaves, sage, and colorful stones and feathers. They knew immediately this woman was a holy being.

Kanati asked her “Holy mother, why are you crying so?” The woman looked up in wonder, because she had been walking with her head down. “I’m crying because the men of my village are fighting constantly! Each thinks his ideas for leading the tribe is the best!” Kanati and Asgaya Gigagei glanced at one another, in perplexity. “Why, if there are so many good ideas for leading your tribe, why are the men fighting? And why aren’t you and the other members happy!” The poor woman shook her head sadly and replied, “Yes, you are right, the men do have very good ideas, but every man wants to speak his own ideas, and not listen to anyone else. They all shout and scream at one another so loudly, that it frightens the children who run and hide behind their mothers. The women are sad because their husbands come to the house upset and angry. Furthermore, the tribe is suffering, because no one can seem to make a decision.”  Just then a beautiful Eagle was soaring overhead, Kanati called out “Brother Eagle, may I have one of your feathers, there are poor humans in desperate need!”

Bother Eagle replied “Yes” and shook himself until a single iridescent, large feather fell to the ground. “Many thanks and Blessings on you” said Kanati. Kanati made secret signs and prayers over the Feather. Asgaya Gigagei helped him with the blessings. Kanati then said to the woman “This is the sacred Talking Father, it holds great power for the one who holds it. Go back to your people, hold this feather up in the air, all who see it will fall silent, and listen to what you have to say. Tell all who listen that from now on, who ever holds this feather, all present within the Circle Council must listen to his words. The feather must then be passed on to the next speaker.”

Significance of ”The Talking Feather” in the ESL Classroom

The Talking Feather method is still used in many American schools, especially with very young children. Although the object the speaker holds may not always be a Feather, or a Stick, it is something equally symbolic to the children. It is effective as a tool to teach children the benefits of listening to others. As teachers we are constantly listening to our students. It was by listening to my students the idea of this site was created. The following is an excerpt from an excellent paper written by a  teacher who discusses the value of  applying the “Talking Feather” method  in the classroom.

The Talking Stick: An American Indian Tradition in the ESL Classroom by Kimberly Fujioka-TESL Journal

“In this paper, I will overview the scholarship which calls for a more democratic teaching practice in the classroom. Secondly, “The Talking Stick”, will be introduced as a listening and speaking methodology that is “transformative”1 and serves as a bridge to cross-cultural understanding in the ESL classroom…

Scholarship in Pedagogy

Traditional teaching practice places the professor in the front of the classroom and the students assembled in rows of desks, all facing the chalkboard. The unchallenged assumption underlying this set-up, is that the teacher has knowledge that the students want to get. The students memorize information, provided by the teacher through lectures, and at a later time, reproduce it in some kind of examination.

The problem with this traditional pedagogy is that students do not become actively involved in the learning process. They think of themselves as passive consumers of education, where information, not true knowledge, becomes just another thing to buy. Paulo Freire (1976) refers to this as “the banking system of education”2 where the students are seen as passive consumers.

In these traditional ways of teaching students feel left out of the process. Students have reported to me that in their other classes, where the traditional style of teaching is used, they feel tired and bored, and, they say they feel like their presence is not needed.

The Talking Stick is based on Native American Tradition

The Talking Stick was a method used by native Americans, to let everyone speak their mind during a council meeting, a type of tribal meeting. According to the indigenous American’s tradition, the stick was imbued with spiritual qualities, that called up the spirit of their ancestors to guide them in making good decisions. The stick ensured that all members, who wished to speak, had their ideas heard. All members of the circle were valued equally…

Talking Stick Rules

“Whoever holds the talking stick has within his hands the power of words. Only he can speak while he holds the stick, and the other council members must remain silent. The eagle feather tied to the stick gives him the courage and wisdom to speak truthfully and wisely. The rabbit fur on the end of the stick, reminds him that his words must come from his heart. ” (Locust, 1998)

Implications for Teaching

Use this method when you want the students to listen to others as part of a learner-centered curriculum. This method takes the focus off the teacher, as the sole purveyor of knowledge. And by using it, students are encouraged to learn from each other…

The teacher can provide language materials with simple, everyday dialog and situations, whereby the students can role-play the parts while in possession of the talking stick.”

The Internet TESL Journal