When I gave a budding homeschooling organization the name Talking Stick back in 2005, I was really pleased with myself. It harkened back to an ancient tradition of a kind of democratic, consensus-based practice of making sure every voice is heard. And that’s how I wanted the organization to be: that every participating youth had a say in how they would spend their time and energy while at Talking Stick. The stick need not be literal (especially if people poke each other with it). It just is about a “sense of the meeting”, as Quakers like to say.
Fast forward to 2017 when my teenage offspring gives me a lesson on some mysterious phenomenon called, “cultural appropriation”. I was like, shouldn’t all cultures share valuable practices and learn from one another? My youth went on to point out that when an extreme historical and current imbalance of power is at play, cultural appropriation becomes another destructive and disrespectful act of the oblivious white dominant culture.
The talking stick is a tradition in some Native American and African cultures. White people went around colonizing much of the world and touching everything we could reach and saying “Mine! Mine! Mine!” leaving cultural and economic devastation in our wake. We used “Guns, Germs and Steel” (a title of a book by Jared Diamond that I recommend) to dominate in whatever ways that met our insatiable needs. Every white person continues to benefit in multiple ways from this white supremacy.
We as an organization are now holding ourselves accountable to be wary of our use of any other cultures’ terms and practices. I know not everyone will agree with this decision, because there are those that argue that as long as the appropriation is positive, it is okay. However, while I meant no offense and was in no way using the practice in a negative or derogatory way, the use of the term, Talking Stick, is problematic and ironic in that white people have a legacy of denying other cultural groups their languages and traditions and attempting to assimilate them into white culture. Then we turn around and use aspects of their cultures without permission.
As we move on to a new phase in our organization’s path, we are excited to start fresh with a new name that has connotations of social connectedness and collaboration. One that recognizes many diverse voices and aims to bring them together simultaneously in a balanced and respectful way to form a cohesive whole. Harmony is a simple and yet powerful term that we hope participants will enjoy using for years to come.