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Chasing Voices: The Story of John Peabody Harrington

Premieres Friday, May 14 at 11 p.m.

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 manuscripts. 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 personal notes and manuscripts began arriving at the Smithsonian. Six tons of materials in total. 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. 

“I would spend hours and days searching through online articles and collections trying to locate and gather as much information about my people as possible. In doing so, I came across a paper published on the creation story of the Quechan. This paper was written by John P. Harrington in 1914. I really felt that his story needed to come to light,” said “Chasing Voices” producer Daniel Golding. 

“I quickly became aware of just how large the problem of traditional language loss is within our tribal communities. I realized that this man had accomplished all this work on Native American languages yet, virtually no one has heard of him. It was as if he was purposefully left out of history.”

Today descendants of those last speakers are now reviving their languages thanks to Harrington and the elders who trusted and spoke to him.

Producer/Director Daniel Golding is an accomplished independent filmmaker serving the Native American community. In 2000, he graduated from San Francisco State University receiving a BA in Film Production and a minor in American Indian Studies. Golding is an award-winning filmmaker. Golding founded Hokan Media LLC in 1997 as a means to produce social issue documentary and narrative films. 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.

He is an enrolled member of the Quechan Indian Tribe located in Winterhaven, California. 

Additional support for “Chasing Voices: The Story of John Peabody Harrington” was provided by, Advocates for California Indigenous Language Survival (ACILS), Quechan Indian Tribe, Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and ITVS Diversity Development Fund. 



“You and I are nothing.  We’ll soon be dust. Get in to the field and do this work. You will be doing something for the people of the distant future. The house is afire, it is burning!”

-John P. Harrington in a letter to Jack Marr