A series of several Indigenous people signing individual words. They are painted in blue, yellow, red, and black.

The Indigenous Deaf Peoples Exhibition (working title) will take over Chapel Hall at Gallaudet University for two years, from 2024 to 2026. The portraits and busts of white men, which have sat in the building for decades, will be relocated elsewhere, along with the Gallaudet at 150 and Beyond exhibition, allowing Indigenous Deaf peoples to lead the space with stories, artworks, and more.

The exhibition will focus on decolonizing and indigenizing Chapel Hall. Indigenous Deaf people will tell their own stories, and explore what it means to reclaim and to heal through art, language, and history.

Planned elements of the exhibition include:

  • Land acknowledgment mural by Nancy Rourke
  • Educational lounge featuring books by Indigenous writers and activities for families
  • Sign language and tactile features

The exhibition will open on Thursday, October 17, 2024, the same day as Gallaudet University’s healing ceremony for Building 103.

Community Curators

Three Indigenous women in simple portrait style, each looking directly at the camera.

Dr. Melanie McKay-Cody is a Cherokee Deaf and earned her doctoral degree in linguistic and socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. She has studied critically-endangered Indigenous Sign Languages in North America since 1994 and helps different tribes preserve their tribal signs. She also specialized in Indigenous Deaf studies and interpreter training incorporating Native culture, North American Indian Sign Language and ASL. She is also an educator and advocate for Indigenous interpreters and students in educational settings. She has also taught ASL classes in several universities, schools and communities for over 42 years. She is one of eight founders of Turtle Island Hand Talk, a new group focused on Indigenous Deaf/Hard of Hearing/DeafBlind and Hearing people.

Nancy Rourke’s name sign is N3 for the three primary colors she uses in her artworks. Art has been her primary language. She attended Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with a master’s degree in computer graphic design and painting. Nancy launched her De’VIA (Deaf View / Image Art) expressionism works in 2010 and has not stopped since. Her artworks are on permanent display in the Silesian Museum in Katowice, Poland. Nancy is an enrolled member of Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians in the Kumeyaay Nation in California. She lives in Colorado. 

Rachel Kills Small is an Oglala Lakota Deaf woman who was born and raised in South Dakota, but currently resides in Iowa.  She grew up the reservation and is not a member of the Turtle Island Hand Talk organization, which makes her a unique contributor to this exhibition’s development. She is very passionate about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and environmental rights.  She has also been committed to preserving Plains Indian Sign Language.  In 2019, she was selected as Deaf Women of Color’s Overlooked Gems.

Decolonize and Indigenize Art Exhibition Curators


Leticia Arellano (bio to follow)

Yá’át’ééh! My name is Vergena Chee, Ya’dez’bah, and I am a full-blooded Native American. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́ (in this way, I am a Navajo woman). I live in a rural area on the Navajo reservation. My clans include Tsénahabìłnii (sleeping rock), Dziłtaah Kinyaa’áanii (towering house clan), Haltsooí (Meadow people), and Táchii’ii (Red running into water people). I’m a college student. I’m currently majoring in Art History. My fascination with cultural rituals, beliefs, and intermixing inspires me to study Art History. (You can imagine how pleased my parents were with my major because they place a high value on our history and traditions). I love exploring new places, meeting new people, and visiting Native festivals that are held.

Nancy Rourke (bio above) is also curating the Decolonize and Indigenize exhibition.

Seeking Contributions

The exhibition team is seeking contributions from the Indigenous Deaf community.


To have your artwork considered for the exhibition, please fill out the Call for Artists form.


To contribute to the Photo Wall, please visit the Call for Photographs form.

Cultural Belongings

To lend belongings, please visit the Call for Cultural Belongings form.

For explanations of these contribution opportunities in PISL and ASL, please see the videos below.

Contact Us

Indigenous Deaf Peoples Exhibition

9:00 am-5:00 pm
9:00 am-5:00 pm
9:00 am-5:00 pm
9:00 am-5:00 pm
9:00 am-5:00 pm

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