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Talking Circles in Cherokee: (woni gasaqualv)


Communication in Native American culture is quite different than the "usual" American competitive-style communication. Their style values cooperation over competition, which reflects in many areas of their lifestyles. When many Native Americans engage in conversation they listen intently, usually looking down and not establishing eye contact, until the person speaking is completely finished talking. Then the other person talks and fully expects to be able to completely finish their thought without interruption or before the conversation turns to another person.

For a non-stop talker like myself who has to think on my toes while on the radio and discussing controversial topics, this has been quite a challenge for me. At the same time, being interrupted tends to rattle me a bit.


In some Native American cultures there is a ritual called, "what is left unsaid" and it is practiced in various ways. In one instance, the group gathers in a circle and uses what is called a "talking feather." Whoever has the feather is the one that states what has been on their mind but hasn't been said. When they are finished talking, the feather is handed to the next person in a clockwise direction and the next person says what they have left unsaid. This is called a "Talking Circle."

In my practice, when I wanted to extract more delicate information from a patient, I would explain the ritual "What is left unsaid" and I would hand them the talking feather.


  1. The person holding the "talking feather" or some other Native American object is the only who has the right to talk. Even if it takes several minutes to think about what they wish to say or if there is a pause in the conversation. Whoever has the "talking feather" has the floor.

  2. If someone in the circle wishes to express a view or comment on what is being said, it is limited to noises that can be made through the nose. This would be a faint grunt of agreement. Any comments, especially negative comments while someone is speaking are absolutely not allowed. In fact, they are banned. Each person MUST wait his or her turn.

  3. When the "talking feather" comes to you, you may talk about "whatever is in your heart or on your mind." There may be an overall topic that the Talking Circle is discussing but you are in no way limited to discussing or commenting on anything anyone has said. A talking circle is not limited in topic content. You are free to say whatever you desire, without limitation or fear. Talking circles are safe environments and you should feel comfortable knowing that no one will interrupt or criticize you.

  4. If someone talks longer than what seems customary (this is called "overlong") then those in the circle may quietly cough as a signal. The term "overlong" is usually defined according to the size of the circle, topic, and how long the group intends on spending in the circle. This may be discussed before the circle begins. Typically, 3 -10 minutes is a sufficient amount of time to talk. If you have the "talking feather" and notice that others are quietly coughing, it's time to pass the feather to the next person.

    Using an alarm or timer is inappropriate for a Talking Circle because it would disrupt the flow of communication and energy. It would also create an unnatural presence to the circle.

  5. The circle can go around several times or until everybody has had at least one opportunity to talk. If the group is large, time constraints may be placed beforehand, although remembering that interruptions are not allowed. The "talking feather" can be passed around once again to give everyone the feeling that they have left nothing unsaid.


When committing to a talking circle, remember the rules and watch the healing begin. It is purgative, relaxing and cleansing. The affect of sharpened listening and learning from others is truly a blessing. You will also become more adept at thinking while on your feet because your communication skills will be more exercised.

Talking circles are amazing. Go ahead and try this practice even between you and a friend.


**This web site's goal is to provide you with information that may be useful in attaining optimal health. Nothing in it is meant as a prescription or as medical advice. You should check with your physician before implementing any changes in your exercise or lifestyle habits, especially if you have physical problems or are taking medications of any kind.