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Sign Language

Apsáalooke Writing Tribal Histories Project

Subject: Social Studies

Grade: 9-12

Topic: Apsáalooke Sign Language

Content: This lesson will teach students the use of hands rather than sounds to communicate. Students will learn that all languages, even those signed, come in their own dialects.

Goals: Students will be able to use the Apsáalooke signs in a basic conversation and attain a better understanding of the wealth of knowledge held by Apsáalooke people, who are able to communicate verbally as well as silently.


Social Studies Standard 6: Students demonstrate an understanding of the impact of human interaction and cultural diversity on societies.

Social Studies Standard 6: Students acquire information and perspectives through authentic materials in world languages and within cultures.

World Languages Standard 6: Students acquire information and perspectives through authentic materials in world languages and within cultures.

World languages Standard 8: Students demonstrate understanding of the concept of culture through comparisons of the culture studied and his/her own.

World Languages Standard 9: Students apply language skills and cultural knowledge in daily life.

Essential Understanding 1: There is great diversity among the 12 tribal Nations of Montana in their languages, cultures, histories and governments. Each Nation has a distinct and unique cultural heritage that contributes to modern Montana.

Essential Understanding 3: The ideologies of Native traditional beliefs and spirituality persist into modern day life as tribal cultures, traditions, and languages are still practiced by many American Indian people and are incorporated into how tribes govern and manage their affairs. Additionally, each tribe has its own oral histories, which are as valid as written histories. These histories pre-date the “discovery” of North America.

Objectives: After completing this lesson students will be able to articulate the complexity of Apsáalooke cultural knowledge.

Materials: Plains Indian sign language flash cards and DVD set available from Little Big Horn College bookstore. Call 406 638 3100.

Introduction: Teachers will discuss with students the fact that most of us use our hands to express ourselves when we speak, and that every culture has recognized hand gestures that are understood as clearly as spoken words. Teachers should ask students for examples of gestures that we use everyday, such as pointing, the sign for peace, okay, and thumbs up. The Apsáalooke people have their own sign language, which is recognized by other tribes on the Plains as well. Many Apsáalooke people know this language and you will often see men, especially older gentlemen, using these signals as they speak. In the past Apsáalookes were able to use this sign language to communicate with individuals from other tribes, offering them a chance for relationships to trade and compare information without needing an individual in camp who could speak the other tribe’s language. Presently this remains true, and these signals are used in conditions when speakers are too far from one another to hear, or in an effort to keep quiet; hunters still use these signals.

Development: This activity will help students understand the complexity of Apsáalooke culture and knowledge.

Practice: Students will look at the sign book and learn the signs needed to carry on a basic conversation.

Checking for Understanding/Evaluation: Instructors will ask students to relay some information in sign, while speaking. Students may also write about the differences in signed and verbal communication.

Closure: Students will discuss if most people they communicate with verbally could communicate in sign language as well. How could this be useful? Why have the Apsáalooke continued this tradition?

In addition: This web site has a story about a meeting that took place in 1930 where Apsáalooke Nation member Deer Nose met with other plains natives and used sign language. . Ask students to research the history and development of American Sign Language History.