Indian Hand Talk

James Woodenlegs first learned to communicate using Plains Indians Sign Language from his family, growing up on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Also known as “hand talk,” the language has been used by both deaf and hearing Indians from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for at least 200 years, possibly much longer. Woodenlegs is working with sign language scholars Jeffrey Davis and Melanie McKay-Cody to document and preserve hand talk, one of thousands of the world’s endangered languages. With support from the National Science Foundation, they are conducting field research to find current users of hand talk, and to compile a dictionary. The three are videotaping interviews with Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Sioux, Crow, and many other tribes. Also featured will be a 1930’s film discovered by that shows various tribe members sharing stories using hand talk.

Provided by the National Science Foundation

Runtime: 2:33

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