American Sign Language is the most widely used sign language for those who are hearing impaired or deaf, but Indigenous people used sign languages long before the development of ASL.
There’s Plateau Sign Language, which is used on the West coast by nations such as the Salish, Inuit Sign Language and Plains Indian Sign Language.
Martin Heavy Head Jr. is a member of the Blood Tribe of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Alberta, and he grew up speaking Plains Indian Sign Language, though he is not deaf.
“Generally speaking, people didn’t understand one another’s languages, so there had to be a universal language among the Plains Indians,” Heavy Head said.
Historically, Plains Indian Sign Language was used by the Crow, Cree, Gros Ventre and Sioux, among other plains nations as a way to communicate with one another when there was no one to translate when the nations came together.
“When we were going to be making a treaty… it was the language that was used because we didn’t fully understand each other’s languages, but everybody spoke Plains Indian Sign Language,” Heavy Head said.
Read more: CBC