Q:

How did Native Americans communicate?

A:

In the past, Native Americans communicated in three different ways. Although the tribes varied, they all used some form of spoken language, pictographs and sign language.

The spoken language varied among the major tribes, and within each tribe, different dialects developed. For instance, even though the Mohawk and the Cherokee people lived hundreds of miles apart, they both spoke dialects of the Iroquois language. Because Native Americans did not have a written language, they used pictures, often drawn on hides or bark, to explain what they meant. People also used hand sign language when communicating with tribes of a different language. During the day, they would build a large, smoky fire to draw attention to themselves. At night, they would create a large fire that could be seen long distances away. To increase the range of their signals, the Native Americans would use copper or mica mirrors to reflect the glow of the fire.

Because the tribes had varying methods of communication, they were able to be in contact with tribes who were both different from them and lived far away. In modern times, Native Americans still communicate with other tribes, and non-natives using both written and spoken English, even as they work to keep the old ways of communication alive.

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