Monday, June 27, 2022

The Secret History of “Hand Talk”

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Centuries before we had American Sign Language, Native Sign Languages, commonly known as “Hand Talk,” flourished in North America. Handtalk is said to influence the formation of American Sign Language, but it has largely been wiped out of history.

One of these Handtalk variations, Plains Indian Sign Language, was used so widely in the Great Plains that it became a lingua franca – a universal language used by both the deaf and hearing people to communicate between tribes that did not share a common spoken language. At one point, tens of thousands of native people used Plains Indian Sign Language, or PISL, for everything from trade to hunting, conflict, storytelling, and ritual.

But by the late 1800s, the federal government began to implement a policy that would forever change the course of Native history: a boarding school program designed to forcibly assimilate Native children into white American culture—a dark history that we are still learning about it to this day

Due to an enforced “English only” policy, the boarding school era is one of the main reasons why the country lost so much Indigenous Signatories — along with the eventual dominance of ASL in schools for the deaf.

Today, there are only a handful of fluent PISL signatories in the US. In the piece above we hear from two of these signatories, Melanie McKay-Cody and Lanny Real Bird, who have devoted their lives to studying and revitalizing the language. They show us PISL in action and help us discover how this ancient language contains centuries of indigenous history.

This video is part of our award-winning series, missing chapter, now in its third season. you can watch Lake Missing chapter episodes in this playlist

You will find the entire library of cafemadrid’s videos on our YouTube channel

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