Story Stick Tutorial
What are “Story” Sticks?
Story Sticks represent the tools Native Americans use to freely express themselves whenever a conflict between two people, two families, two tribes, or two nations needs resolution. Whoever possesses the Story Stick cannot be interrupted for as long as it’s in their possession.
Once a person fully expresses themselves, they pass it along to another, and the process will repeat itself until all who have something to say, express it. As long as you possess the “Story Stick”, you can say anything without fear of reprisal. The Story Stick is a tool that has empowered freedom of speech in North America long before the current settlers, settled.
Another use for a Story Stick is for entertainment, many ancient cultures viewed genius as a spirit that flowed through you like a gust of wind. This is a stark contrast to how our culture interprets genius as a force that emits from the individual. So a Story Stick is used as a receptacle to catch that gust of genius flowing past you and channel it as a contribution to a Story Circle.
Story Circles begin when one person starts a story and passes the Story Stick to another so they may add the next chapter. This process creates unique oral novels that include everyone to contribute a chapter. It also cultivates creativity during the entire life span of birth to Earth. I highly recommend making your own Story Circle with your friends and loved ones, you’ll be surprised where it takes you.
How Do You Make a Story Stick?
The best piece of advice that was given to me was from Clayton Duncan, the Pomo Indian that gave Eric and me our first Story Stick. This advice simply stated; “Let the Great Spirit guide you”. Before I describe the process on how I make a Story Stick, I want to comment on the values of the creative process first because it’s relevant to the experience of letting the Great Spirit guide you.
It Starts in Your Head
Your experiences, creativity, and environment will develop a completely different Story Stick than the ones I produce. A Story Stick is designed to embody the values of love thy neighbor, respect each others humanity, and to achieve order out of a seemingly chaotic event that needs resolution.
A Story Stick is called many different names by many different tribes, some call it a Dream Stick, others a Talking Stick, and some tribes have imbued these same values into decorated stones, bones, or hides. But at the end of the process, the intent is the same, to create peace with one another.
I produced these Story Sticks to honor each and every one of the people who took time out of their day to share their wisdom, insights, and lessons with me, my camera, and the world. I stopped recording in 2007 at 548 people because it represented a milestone of documenting one voice for every one hundred thousand people living in America with a disability. 54 million Americans have a disability story that we need to listen to because one day we may need their lessons.
Begin to Weave
During my three months of being a Story Stick maker, I reflected on the road traveled to collect the 548 voices and the lessons learned from America’s disability community. For me, the weaving on a Story Stick represents how each and every one of us are connected, interdependent, and similar to each other.
The Story Flag is made of 61 dozen Story Sticks, each of these dozen has a unique, colorful and individualized leather weave applied to it. These slender strips of intertwining leather represent the 61 of the 110 cities IOS has visited to video document that area’s disability community of advocates, supporters and leaders experience. Over 300 questions have been created from the community and asked of each other to contribute their perspectives on. Once published, this collage of responses will create beautiful threads of material that anyone with online access can weave a new story with from the leather of our experience.
The stick used is a common bamboo garden stake, 5/8 in diameter and serves two purposes: First, to secure the three feathers into and secondly, to hide secrets in its hollow core. The power of secrets was one of the more interesting questions asked of some and how secrets can control you until you let them free for all to see, thereby, killing the power they had over you. The IOS archives have many of these examples to share and each one of my Story Sticks has some within it. Some bamboo handles had to be drilled to make this cavity for secrets because of the natural knuckle bamboo shoots have. Clayton Duncan uses Pepperwood which his tribe calls the local Bay Laurel leaves. It makes his Story Stick smell wonderful.
Some Hidden Secrets
Additional scents can be provided by Sage, Angelica, and Sweetgrass. I have used crushed shells, hazelnuts, and bone beads to make some rattle. Some Native Americans encased something in a secret chamber, they made sure it represented a divine value like love, wisdom, truth, honor, courage, etc.
A Little Thread, Sinew, and Wire
Once you finish your chosen weave of leather, yarn, or fabric you can secure both ends with any number of materials. I have used combinations of thread, sinew, and wire to achieve this. These materials can also be added as another layer or accent to your weave in addition to tacking down the ends. I use a man-made sinew as my beading thread but you may choose a different thread or wire if that suits your style. I just have a fondness for the resilience and natural feeling elasticity of the sinew.
Adding Some Beads of Wisdom
A Rosary inspires my string of beads, how they drape over a wrist and feel all silky and smooth. You can look to necklaces, bracelets, and earrings for creative ideas, patterns and combinations. Our video histories are “beads of wisdom” that each of our voices have to share with America, lessons that can be passed from one to another, we just have to make them “accessible to all.” When edited, engineered, and published these video-histories will produce over 15,000 beads of wisdom on every topic our disability community deems important.
Adorn with Feathers
After weaves are applied and beads are strung, the feathers are ready to be inserted into the hollow bamboo shoots. I used three feathers when possible, sometimes the opening in the bamboo shoots was too narrow. If so, I put a third feather on the woven handle or dangled one at the end of the string of beads.
There’s something powerful about triangles in design that find origins in the architecture of the Great Pyramids, in the spirituality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and in the democracy of the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Presidency. In America, a feather is synonymous with the Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.
While Persia, India and Greece all have origins to the Phoenix. A legendary firebird who reduced itself to ashes every 500 to 1,000 years only to be reborn, anew and young. While a Thunderbird reigned superior in many Native cultures long before our fore fathers came her to settle.
Sealed with Wax
While the waxing and feathering process harkens back to Icarus, it also represents the light of a candle, the personal seal for a letter, and the miracle of a bee’s hive. This wax is blended with sand and dries glass hard. It encapsulates the cork and bottle tops of natures finest wines. The wax chosen was found in my backyard of Napa Valley but is imported from France.
Use Extreme Caution
The wax melts at 200 degrees and is very hot when it comes in contact with your skin. Extreme care must be practiced if you choose to use this technique. I melted the wax in small metal containers, using an old toaster oven. The containers and oven cannot be used afterward for anything but melting wax.
I highly recommend using a face mask to filter any airborne particles that may have wax adhered to them, your lungs are no place for these substances to reside. A safer, non-toxic method is using thread, sinew, or thin wire to secure the feathers.
Enjoy The Journey
I’ve tried my best to share with you the techniques, lessons, and insights of making a Story Stick. I hope you can take these above techniques as guidelines to create your own “one of a kind” Story Stick. After you make a couple of these, please share them with others.
And for those of you who find this process so empowering, you can’t stop, please don’t. The World can never have enough Story Stick producers. It’s a noble craft that may provide you with opportunities you’ve never dreamed were possible for you to achieve. Story Sticks make great gifts, inspire creativity, and are a wonderful way to resolve conflicts. This ancient tool of self-expression sharpens listening skills while strengthening ones ability to define themselves orally.
Feathers are primal for me; I feel they may be a shadow dream that sleeps in our DNA. From my perspective, a feather transcends cultures, like water is here to support life; a feather is here to support dreaming. I believe a simple feather and stick may disclose all the secrets necessary for “us” to discard the “them” so we, the people, finally, may witness humanity’s eternal dream of “just us”.
Our spirits have soared since the dawn of humanity, yet our bodies have only been able to take flight for a Century. A mere one-hundred years ago; only our imagination, mythical beings, and birds could only conquer flight and now our footprints are on the Moon, our machines are racing to the Stars, and our minds are still trying to conquer ourselves.
I believe humanity can take a critical lesson from our ancestors by remembering to listen deeply to each others stories and an adorned “feather and stick” may be just the trick to make us all, better than we were the day before.