Manataka American Indian Council

















by William Tomkins



Introductory Notes


A - Abandon I -   Ice Q - Quarrel
B - Baby J - Jealous R - Rabbit
C - Cache K - Keep S - Sacred
D - Dakota L - Lake T - Tail
E - Eagle M - Mad U - Ugly
F - Face N - Name V - Vaccinate
G - Gallop O - Oath W - Wagon
H - Hail P - Pack Y - Year


DAKOTA--Indians. (See SIOUX.)

DAM. Make sign for RIVER, and for HOLD.

DANCE (meaning: hopping action). Place both 5 hands in front of breast, pointing up, palms 6 inches apart; move up and down 3 inches, for 2 or 3 times.

DANGEROUS.  With respect to a person, make the signs HEART and BAD.  If of a place, specify in what way it is dangerous.

DARK. Make sign for NIGHT and SAME; or hold extended hands in front of and close to eyes.

DAUGHTER.  Make the sign for FEMALE, then with right compressed hand held upright indicate the height of girl.

DAY. Hold level flat hands, backs up, in front of face, and 4 inches apart; sweep hands up and out in a curve, ending opposite shoulders with palms up.  For TODAY, first make sign NOW.

DAYBREAK.  Place both extended hands, backs out, in same horizontal plane, right hand above with little finger touching left index; then raise the right hand a few inches.

DEAD.  Make signs for DIE and SLEEP.

Click on picture to enlarge

DEAF.  Press palm of flat right hand against right ear; then make small circular motion with hand close to car, and sign NO.

DECEIVE (meaning: he gives the lie).  Make sign for GIVE and for LIE.

DEEP.  To show depth of river or water, make sign for RIVER or WATER; then point downwards.  If depth is slight, place hand on person to show how far the water rises on person or horse.

DEER.  Indicate deer horns with both spread 5 hands held above sides of head.

DEFAME.  Make the sign for ABUSE.

DEFY. Place thumb between index and second finger of right band; push it sharply towards the person.

DEPART. Make sign for GO.


DIE (meaning: going under).  Hold the left flat hand, back out, well in front of body, fingers horizontal; bring right 1 hand on same plane and pointing to left hand, move right hand downwards and outwards.

DIG. Execute with both hands a pawing motion, moving hands from right front downwards, to left and rear on curve; repeating motion.


DIRT.  Point to ground with right index finger, then reach down and rub thumb and tips of fingers together.

DISGUST.  Make the signs for HEART and TIRED.  The head is sometimes turned to one side, and the idea conveyed by facial expression.

DISMOUNT.  Make sign for HORSE; then raise right 2 hand and lower it, pointing fingers at ground.

DISTANT.  Right hand, back to right, in front of right breast, a little lower than shoulder, hand partly closed and close to body; push the hand to front, raising it slightly.  Very distant would be shown by extending arm to full length.

DISTRIBUTE (meaning: handing out).  Bring right flat hand, back of same to right, well in front and a little to right of body; move hand slightly upwards to front, and then a little downwards; then take first position and make similar motion to left, as though giving to several persons.

DIVE. Hold left flat hand, back outwards, well in front of body, fingers pointing to right; hold right flat hand, back out, behind and little above left hand, fingers pointing downward; then move right hand down and out under left hand.

DIVORCE. Make the signs for HIS, WOMAN, and ABANDONED.

DO. Make the sign for WORK,

DO NOT.  Make signs for WORK and NO.

DOCTOR. Make the signs for WHITE MAN, CHIEF and MEDICINE.

DOG (meaning: wolf drawing teepee poles).  Draw right 2 hand across in front of body, from left to right.

DOLLAR. Make the sign for MONEY, and raise right index finger to indicate one.

DONE.  Make the sign for END.

DOOR.  Make the sign for TEEPEE or for HOUSE; hold left flat hand well in front of breast, back outwards and pointing to right; then place flat right hand on palm, and turn same over to right, as though little finger was a hinge.

DOUBT.  Make the sign for PERHAPS.

DOWN. Point downwards with right index finger.

DREAM.  Make signs for SLEEP, and SEE, and GOOD.

DRESS. Pass the spread thumb and index finger over that part of body represented as covered.

DRINK (meaning: drinking from the curved right hand).   With fingers tight together partly compress the right hand as though to form a cup; carry to mouth from above downwards, as though drinking water.

DROUTH.  (DROUGHT) Make signs for LONGTIME, RAIN, and NO.

DROWN. Make the sign for WATER; then sign whether LAKE or RIVER, and make sign for DIE.

DRUM.  Place hands in first motion for KETTLE; then with left hand still in position, use partly closed right hand as drum-stick, and strike down several times.

DRUNKARD. Make sign for WHISKEY and sign for DRINK, repeating four or five times, and signs for MUCH and CRAZY.

DRY.  To indicate that stream or spring is dry, make sign for STREAM (LITTLE RIVER), for WATER, and for ALL GONE.

DUCK. Make signs for BIRD and WATER, and gesture with right flat hand for flat hill.

DULL.  Hold left flat hand in front of body, back down; then with lower edge of flat right hand saw back and forth 3 or 4 times; then make sign for BAD.

DUMB. Palm of right hand over mouth; then make the signs TALK and NO.

E Click on picture to enlarge

EAGLE (meaning: wings, and black tips of tail feathers).   Make sign for BIRD; then hold horizontally the extended left flat hand, back up, in front of left breast, fingers pointing to front and right; then lay the lower edge of vertical extended right hand, back to right and outwards, fingers pointing to left and front, on back of left, on knuckles; move the right hand outwards and to right; then make sign for BLACK, representing the black end of the tail feathers. Occasionally the sign for TAIL is made.

EARLY.  If early in the morning make signs for DAYBREAK, and LITTLE; if early in the evening, make signs for SUNSET, and LITTLE.

EARRING (meaning: long, narrow pendant).  Point extended index fingers downward, other fingers and thumbs closed, alongside of ears, backs of hands towards head; shake hands a trifle, giving a trembling motion to index fingers.

EARTH.  Point with right index to the ground, then reach down and rub thumb and tips of fingers together.

EAT.  With nearly compressed right hand, pass tips of fingers in curve downward past mouth two or three times by wrist action.

Add location of sun in the sky to indicate breakfast, dinner or supper. (Modern).

EATEN ENOUGH (meaning: filled to the throat).  Make the sign for EAT; then spread index and thumb of right hand close to breast; move the hand upwards to height of chin.

EFFORT. Make the sign for PUSH.

ELK (meaning: horns).  With fingers extended and pointing upwards, place hands above head; move them to front and rear two or three times.

ELOPE.  The Indian method of eloping is to STEAL the woman; so the proper signs are accordingly made, i.e., STEAL and WOMAN.

END (meaning: cut off).  Hold left flat hand out in front of left breast, thumb upward; then with right flat hand strike down past finger tips of left hand.

ENEMY.  Make the signs FRIEND and NO.  Have seen Indians make the signs SHAKE HANDS and NO, though first sign is more general.

ENLIST.  Make the signs for WORK and SOLDIER.

ENTER (meaning: to enter a TEEPEE, or stooping position in entering a lodge).  Make sign for HOUSE; then hold compressed left hand well in front of body; bring partly compressed right hand downwards and outwards, under left.

EQUAL (meaning: even race).  Hold 1 hands in front of breast, indexes two inches apart; move them both to front, keeping tips opposite, indicating an even race.

ESCAPE.  With hands closed, cross the wrists; then separate hands quickly by swinging them to right and left and slightly upwards; then make the sign for GO.

ETERNALLY.  Make the sign for FOREVER.

EVENING.  With extended right hand, make the sign of SUN sinking in the west; then signs NIGHT, and LITTLE.

EXCHANGE or TRADE.  Hold up 1 hands; then in semi-circle strike them past each other.

EXPLAIN.  Hold extended right hand, back down, in front of, close to, and little lower than mouth, fingers pointing to left; by wrist action move hand outwards a few inches.  To be spoken to or explained to, reverse the action, moving hand towards face.

EXTERMINATE (meaning: wiped out). Hold left flat hand in front of body; then wipe flat right hand across same.

F  Click on picture to enlarge

FACE.  Bring right flat hand down across front of face.

FAINT.  Make the sign for DIE and for RECOVER.

FALL (Season).  Make sign for AUTUMN.

FALL (of water). Make sign for RIVER; then hold flat hand, back out, in front of body; bring right hand, fingers slightly apart, over top of left hand and down with wavy motion.

FALL (to).  Right flat hand in front of body, pointing to left, back up; swing hand in a curve, upwards and outwards, to right, then downwards while turning hand palm up.

FAME. The highest compliment you can pay an Indian is to say that he is a CHIEF, BRAVE; therefore make these signs to express fame.,

FAR.  Make the sign for DISTANT.

FARM.  Make the sign for CORN and for WORK.

FAST (meaning: pass by).  Hold left flat hand in front of body, back to left; then hold right flat hand, back to right, six inches to rear of left.  Make right hand go swiftly past left in a curve very slightly downwards and then upwards.

FATHER.  With compressed right hand gently tap right breast two or three times; then make the sign for MALE.

FATHER-IN-LAW.  Make the sign for WIFE or HUSBAND, then FATHER.

FEAR. Make the sign for AFRAID.

FEAST.  Make the sign for WORK, for two or three kettles in a row, for BRING (from several directions); first part of sign for COUNCIL, and for EAT.  (Repeat this latter two or three times).

FEATHER.  For one feather worn as a decoration on the head, make sign for BIRD, for TAIL, and place extended index of right hand pointing up at back of head.

FEMALE (meaning: combing the hair). Place both hands on either side of head, fingers hooked; then stroke downwards as though combing the hair. Use of but right hand also correct.

FEW (meaning: compressed).  Hold partly closed hands in front of body, palms towards each other, lower edges pointing to front, hands opposite, but heel of right hand height of index of left, and eight inches apart; move right hand to left, left to right until right is over left.

FIGHT.  Bring loose fists, palms toward each other, in front of body, at height of shoulders, and three inches apart.  Move right hand few inches towards body, while left goes outwards same distance; then reverse and repeat.

FINISHED.  Make the sign for END.

FIRE (meaning: blaze).  Carry right arm well down in front of body, fingers partially closed; raise hand slightly and snap fingers upwards. Repeat.

FIRE (meaning: discharge of weapon).  See SHOOT.

FISH.  Make sign for WATER, then hold flat right hand, back to right, at right of body near waist; then move the hand to front sinuously.

FIX. Hold left flat hand upwards, right flat hand crossing it at right angles; push edge of right across left, while left flattens with back up.

FLAG. Bring right flat hand out in front right shoulder; place fingers of left hand on wrist of right, then oscillate or wave right hand several times.

FLOAT. Indicate the WATER, RIVER, LAKE, etc.  Bring extended left hand in front of breast, back up; lay right hand on it; then move hands with wavy motion to right.

FLOUR.  Hold right hand, back to right, in front of body, and rub tips of fingers with tip of thumb; then point to something white and make sign for BREAD.

FLOWER.  Make the sign for GRASS at waistline.   Then make circle of thumb and index of both hands; then turn outside of hands under, until little fingers touch and thumbs and indexes point up. Some add SMELL and GOOD.

FLY.  Make sign for WINGS, as in BIRD.

FOG.  Make sign for WATER; then cross hands, fingers open, in front of eyes.

FOLLOW.  With palms facing, left hand ahead, thrust both hands forward with zigzag motion.

FOND (meaning: pressed to the heart).  Cross wrists, a little in front and above the heart, right nearest body, hands closed, backs out; press right forearm against body and left wrist against right.  This expresses regard, liking, fondness, affection and love.

FOOD. Make the sign for EAT.

FOOL.  Make the sign for CRAZY. (For UNWISE, INDISCREET or FOOLISH, add sign for LITTLE.)

FOOTPRINTS.  Make sign for WALK and for SEE; fingers pointing to ground. 

FOOTRACE. Make sign for RUN and for EQUAL.  If one comes out ahead, move one finger to front.

FOREST. Hold open right and left hands ten inches out in front of shoulders, back outward, thumb and fingers spread.  Move slightly upward, slowly, to indicate growth, then extend right hand to right and front indicating trees extend great distance, then add PLENTY.

FOREVER. Place the open right hand, palm towards right side of head, just clear of head; then move it forward and backward twice, past front and rear of head.  In general use fifty years ago, according to Hadley.

FORGET (meaning: mental darkness).  Almost make sign for NIGHT, by holding left hand steady in front and sweeping right hand around to left.

FORT (meaning: white soldier's house).  Make the sign for WHITE, for SOLDIER, and for HOUSE.

FOUND.  This is represented by I SAW IT.  PICKED IT UP.

FOX.  Show size of animal and large, long tail with white tip.

Click on picture to enlarge

FRAGRANT (meaning: smells good).  Move the right 2 hand by wrist action upwards from chin, nose passing between tips of fingers; then sign GOOD.

FREEZE.  Make the sign for COLD, for WATER, and for HARD.

FREEZE OVER (meaning: ice closing over a stream).  Make sign for COLD and for WATER or RIVER; then hold flat hands, backs up, opposite shoulders, fingers pointing to front; move hands toward each other until index fingers touch.   Representing ice formed on surface of water.

FRIEND (meaning: brothers growing up together).  Hold right hand in front of neck, palm outwards, index and second fingers extending upwards, raise the hand until tips of fingers are high as head.  Southern Indians make sign of shaking their own hands, which all Indians now understand.

FROG.  Make sign for WATER; then compress right hand near right shoulder and make motion of frog jumping.

FUTURE.  (Meaning--time in front.) Make the sign for TIME, then advance the right hand past and beyond the left hand.