Chasing Voices - The Story of John Peabody Harrington

Daniel Golding

Chasing Voices is the extraordinary story of American linguist John Peabody Harrington, who from 1907 to 1961 amassed over a million pages of notes photographs, and audio recordings on over 150 different Native American languages throughout the United States.
John Peabody Harrington at work recording with dictaphone.
John Peabody Harrington at work recording with dictaphone.

Synopsis

From 1907 until his death, John Peabody Harrington crisscrossed the U.S. chasing the voices of the last speakers of Native America's dying languages. Understanding languages was his gift, which became his obsession. From one tribal community to the next he went, working in collaboration with the last speakers documenting every finite detail of the language before it was lost forever. Writing note after note, page after page, day after day, year after year, until his death in 1961. Over time Harrington grew more and more paranoid fearing others would steal his work. This paranoia caused him to hide his work, only sharing small amounts to satisfy his employer the Bureau of American Ethnology. Shortly after his death, boxes of notes began arriving at the Smithsonian. Six tons of materials collected in a basement at the Smithsonian. Harrington had amassed well over one million pages of notes on over 100 different languages during his 50-year career. A feat matched by no other. Today descendants of those last speakers are now reviving their languages thanks to Harrington and the elders who trusted and spoke to him.

Credits/Bios

Daniel Golding is an award-winning filmmaker and founded Hokan Media LLC in 1997 as a means to produce social issue documentary and narrative films. In 2000 he graduated from San Francisco State University receiving a BA in Film Production and a minor in American Indian Studies. His films have screened both nationally and internationally. Some of his film credits include: When the Fire Dims, which premiered in 1998 at the Sundance Film Festival; Waila! Making the People Happy, a half hour documentary on Chicken Scratch music, the contemporary dance music of southern Arizona tribes, which premiered nationally on PBS April 2009, and Greed Energy, a feature film about president Obama’s decision to open public lands in order to “fast track” a renewable energy project which threatened sacred sites.  Most recently Dan served as co-producer on the Anne Makepeace documentary, Tribal Justice, which aired on POV in 2017.  He recently finished Decade of Dominance-The Warriors, a feature length documentary on the San Pasqual High School football team, the only team from a Native American reservation to win a State Championship in 11-man football. Dan teaches hands-on digital filmmaking workshops to at-risk tribal youth through Hokan Media Digital Filmmaking Academy and has done workshops throughout California, Arizona, and Washington.  A traditional singer, he is involved in a master apprentice language program and is an enrolled member of the Quechan Indian Nation located in Winterhaven, CA.