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Four Feathers Writing Guide

Learn more about traditional Coast Salish teachings and approaches to learning that can support your development as an academic writer.

Identify Knowledge: Prepare to Tell the Story

Great horned owl on top of a stump

“You have knowledge different from anyone else that has been passed down to you from Elders, family, and life experience. You’ve also learned from resources, such as books and online materials” (Charles, 2018).

Owl/ĆIETṈEW̱ (Great Horned Owl)

When you’re getting ready to tell your story through your writing, think of the owl. Known as the night eagle, the owl shares many of the same qualities as the eagle. For example, the owl possesses remarkable vision that allows it to see in both darkness and light. Due to the owl’s keen powers of perception, the owl represents wisdom and knowledge (Alphonse, 2018).11

Teaching: Drum

The most common drums in this Coast Salish area are the single side hand held drum and the pow wow drum, which generally sits on legs and is a double sided drum.

When making a drum you have to be of positive mind and positive heart. You cannot be impatient or angry when making a drum, or anything you make, you do not want to pass negative energy on to the drum, a belief is you will have ongoing trouble or problems, every time you use whatever it is you made while in a negative state of mind. As you make your drum you pray for the safety and wellbeing of any person that uses the drum, that no harm comes to anyone!

The drum is made from deer, elk, or moose hide, depends where you live, in this area we mostly use deer hide. The drum is the main part of all our songs. We take good care of our drums because they are sacred, the drum is a sacred tool that carries messages of prayer or thankful appreciation to the Creator (XALS). The drum provides good feelings (IY’ SKOLEWEN) and is considered good medicine for our mind, body, and soul! We are taught not to drum real hard, it is considered disrespectful if we break the hide of our drum. We hang our drums facing the east, to keep them pure, like the start of a new day. The drum helps carry our songs of prayer and thanks to the Creator. We sing friendship songs, honour songs, welcome songs, prayer songs, and dance to these songs.

The roundness of the drum represents Mother Earth and the steady beat is the heart beat of Mother Earth (this is why you do not beat the drum hard). The frame is made from cedar, cedar is very strong and also a sacred part of our way of life. (Charles, 2018)

Prepare Yourself to Write

Just as makers of drums ensure they are prepared for their tasks by having the necessary knowledge and understanding, as well as making sure they are of good heart and mind for the task, students also go through a process of preparing to write. The more knowledge you have and the more prepared you are to tell your story, the easier writing will be for you. 


11 The teachings and approaches to learning in this guide are shared with permission. The ownership of the Traditional Knowledge remains in perpetuity with the appropriate Nation; accordingly, the information should not be re-used without explicit permission.

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