“You and I are nothing. We’ll soon be ashes. The house is burning! Get into the field and do this work. You will be doing something for the people of the distant future,”
John Peabody Harrington
When anthropologist John Peabody Harrington died in 1961 at the age of 77, few understood the significance of his work. His obsessively driven career became dedicated to preserving Native American dying languages. He documented the languages of 130 Tribes across the country.
The J. P. Harrington Collection also includes close to one million pages of notes filling over 1,000 archival boxes, plus over 200 sound recordings, some 3,500 photographs, and thousands of botanical and other natural specimens. The National Anthropological Archives (NAA) materials are complemented by nearly 600 artifacts that also are part of the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology collection.
Filmmaker Daniel Golding comes from the Tribes that Harrington recorded. Now in production, Chasing Voices: John P. Harrington and Native Language Revitalization, Golding explores how the Chumash, Mojave and Luiseño are using Harrington’s material to keep their languages alive.
If Harrington hadn’t been so dedicated to preserving this part of Tribal history, much indigenous knowledge may have been lost.
Indigenous knowledge has been passed down through the oral tradition of storytelling, but in today’s times, when less than half of our Tribal members live on their original lands, sharing that knowledge with our youth is difficult.
How do we pass down traditional knowledge in a meaningful way? How do we honor the legacy of our ancestors? How do we tell our youth that it’s OK to be Tribal, when nothing we hear in the mainstream media supports that?
That’s why Vision Maker Media does this work. Through our audio and video work, we are dedicated to sharing Native stories. Culturally sensitive material may be some of the most important media to save. There are safe guards to put in place to ensure only authorized individuals can access these materials.
I’ve been involved in TV and radio since 1979. I’ve seen many recording formats come and go. I learned audio editing with a razor blade in my hand! Just in the last decade, we’ve seen DVDs and certainly cassette tapes fall out of favor. Some of my adult daughters’ favorite movies are on VHS tape. My 5-year old grandson has never seen a VHS tape! With cloud storage, we can rest a little easier that our audio and video history will be preserved, but this guide will help you navigate the system.
We produced this guide to help personal and institutional collectors with instructions and examples of best practices to save your archives for future generations.
Shirley K. Sneve (Rosebud Sioux)
Vision Maker Media Executive Director