Native American Storytellers to Visit WWU

Two Native Americans will visit William Woods University to share stories and their research on sign language as it pertains to the Native American tribes.


The event is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 4) in room 6 of the Burton Business Building. 


Steve Brunelle, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in N.D., and James WoodenLegs, Northern Cheyenne reservation native from New Mexico, will tell stories and lecture using Plains Indian Sign Language and American Sign Language.


Brunelle is the founder and executive director of Channel for the Hearing Impaired Community (CHIC). He has worked for the Turtle Mountain tribal government in many different capacities, and has acted in a number of Bernard Bragg’s plays, such as “Tales from a Clubroom” and “That Makes Two of Us.”


Currently, he is working as a videographer to document Plains Indian Sign Language for two sign language linguistics—Dr. Jeffrey Davis of the University of Tennessee and Melanie McKay-Cody of William Woods University—with support of the National Science Foundation.


WoodenLegs is a Montana native who has been Deaf since six months old from spinal meningitis. Since he was a toddler, he has used Plains Indian Sign Language, a sign talk taught to him by relatives while on the reservation. It wasn’t until his attendance at the Montana School for the Deaf that he learned American Sign Language.


WoodenLegs plans to narrate stories of the Northern Cheyenne Culture as passed down by his ancestors.  


Tammy Carter, coordinator of WWU’s office of multicultural affairs, believes the program will benefit all WWU students, particularly those in American Sign Language interpreting.


“I think it will raise their awareness to the diversity of signing across Native American cultures and how the importance of storytelling is also kept alive by Native Americans who are deaf,” she said.


“As with all cultures and ethnicities, being distinguished as an individual culture and having their contributions recognized is imperative to the various Native American tribes.”

The WWU American Sign Language (ASL) program prepares students to effectively communicate between ASL and English. According to Carter, events such as these open students’ eyes to different forms of communication within the signing community.

“I think this event will raise their awareness that signing across cultures is equivalent to learning the different languages across the world,” Carter said.

“There are innumerous ways in which different cultures use signing.  Like going abroad to expand ones cultural views, as well as educational and personal horizons, the same can be accomplished with learning the various gestures and hand symbols that are used when signing by different cultures.”
For more information on the event, contact Carter at (573) 592-4358 or