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Super Bowl to have Indigenous sign language performer

 Colin Denny is a research assist working to preserve tribal sign languages at the University of Arizona. He will sing using a mix of American and North American Indian sign languages at the 2023 Super Bowl.
Lyle Begay
/
University of Arizona
Colin Denny is a research assist working to preserve tribal sign languages at the University of Arizona. He will sing using a mix of American and North American Indian sign languages at the 2023 Super Bowl.

News brief

As R&B artist Babyface sings “America the Beautiful” at the 2023 Super Bowl, he’ll be accompanied by a group of sign language performers. One will use a mix of American and North American Indian sign languages.

Colin Denny is a deaf, Navajo research assistant at the University of Arizona. He’s working to preserve Indigenous signs and to represent deaf Indigenous communities at the game.

When he was at a tribal college in New Mexico, he noted the lack of resources for deaf students who wanted to learn their Indigenous languages.

“I didn’t see any interpreters who were Navajo, so how can the deaf and hard of hearing people learn the Navajo language — spoken language?” he said via an interpreter during a news conference about his Super Bowl appearance.

He said someone needs to document the languages. And he wants to help preserve them, conserve their histories and one day teach others.

“I want to prepare our generation or even the younger generations to know that there is a language there,” he said. “Our culture is there.”

Denny’s part of a team led by Melanie McKay-Cody, an assistant professor at the university. It’s documenting the different tribal sign languages and creating a video dictionary.

The dictionary will include signs appropriate for the public as well as a section reserved for tribal members — possible signs could relate to ceremonies or certain traditions.

Colonization and boarding schools tried to eradicate these sign languages, just as they did spoken Indigenous languages.

"Their languages were being eradicated, pretty much being lost," McKay-Cody said in a prepared statement. "But we're catching up. The younger generation needs to know that they can reach out to the elders in their community to reclaim that language and help preserve it and pass it down."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson