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Mountain Chief, Chief of Montana Blackfeet, in Native Dress With Bow, Arrows, and Lance, Listening to Song Being Played On Phonograph and Interpreting It in Sign Language to Frances Densmore, Ethnologist, March 1916, by Harris & Ewing, Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives

The Recovering Voices Community Research Program supports indigenous communities in their efforts to save, document, and enliven their languages, cultures, and knowledge systems. Funding bring groups of community scholars to the Smithsonian to examine specific objects, specimens, and documents related to their heritage and to engage in a dialogue with Smithsonian staff in order to recover and revitalize their language and knowledge.

For more information about how to apply for the Community Research Program, visit our Support Page.

Past Projects

Apsáalooke (Crow) Tribe of Montana

Crow collectionsThis group of community researchers worked towards creating a solution to make Crow museum collections more accessible to the community at home. This meant working toward building a digital pocket archive accessible through mobile devices or smart phones instead of computers. During the week the group focused on traditional beadwork designs and materials decorated with beadwork including men’s shirts, bags, cradle boards, and dolls. Each member brought a unique set of skills and interests that allowed them to build on each other’s strengths while researching collections items and archival materials.

Wauja Tribe from Brazil

Wuaja view videoThree community researchers traveled from their villages in the Amazon forest of Brazil (Mato Grosso state) to gather information about films, birds, bugs, amphibians, and cultural objects collected from their surrounding area on the Xingu River over the last 60 years. There has been much ecological change in their area due to many factors, natural and man-made, and they needed to access the historic natural history collections that don’t exist in Brazil. This group, made up of two prominent elders and a culture and language preservationist, accessed collections throughout the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian during their stay.

Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids

Three community researchers worked in the NMNH and NMAI collections to study fishing technology that fell into disuse in the 1950s after the tribe was relocated due to the building of the Hanford nuclear facility for the Manhattan Project. During the visit, the researchers’ focus was on the fishing ring net weight, of which the Smithsonian holds two of the only 4 known to exist. They began to reverse-engineer reproductions on site with natural raw materials sent to our museum in advance of the research visit to relearn the skills and knowledge that was lost. These weights are important to their method of drag net fishing down the Columbia River as the stone suspended inside the wooden ring allows the weight to move with the net and the current down river, rather than being caught by rocks on the river bed. By reclaiming their traditional fishing knowledge, the tribe has legal grounds to reclaim the fishing rights that were lost with relocation.

Wasco Visit from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

Five researchers worked at NMNH and NMAI collections to document vocabulary and material culture knowledge to inform the development of a dictionary of Kiksht, the language of the Wasco tribe belonging to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon. There are no first language speakers of Kiksht and current revitalization efforts depend heavily on archival research. Along with vocabularies, the group also studied stories that provide great insights into cultural practices. In collections, the group discovered mountain sheep horn bowls that are no longer made or even owned by tribal members, but clearly showed Wasco symbolism and traditional designs.

Cheyenne Visit from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes

Six researchers worked on the documentation of traditional Cheyenne games, art, and material knowledge as well as associated Cheyenne lexicon to inform curriculum design for the tribe’s Language, Culture and Heritage, and Health and Wellness programs. The time depth of the Anthropology collections was especially revealing of changes in material culture over time and resulted in new knowledge for the tribe as well as the museum collections about games, beadwork and clothing and associated terminology. As of posting, the tribe had already integrated the knowledge from the visit into community programming.

Barbareño Chumash Visit  

Six community researchers, Sarah Moreno, Deborah Sanchez, Georgiana Sanchez, Susan Diaz, John Moreno, Isabel Ayala, and Maura Sullivan across three generations of tribal members carried out research at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA) on archival material from the J.P. Harrington Collection. While working for the Bureau of American Ethnography (BAE) by John P. Harrington (1884-1961) assembled one of the most important Native language resources ever created. An obsessive worker, Harrington amassed linguistic material and cultural information from more than 131 language communities across the US and extending into Mexico that are highly endangered or no longer actively spoken. His documentation on Chumash languages is the single largest body of documentation on these languages. The group created two databases using the Harrington material to enhance an interim dictionary that is critical to the communities’ language and cultural reclamation. (April 2014).

Samoan Tapa Project

Tufuga Su’a Tupuola Uilisone Fitiao (Artist) and Regina Meredith (Artist and American Samoa Community College Professor of Arts,  worked for a month on the NMNH extensive tapa collections collected in Samoa from 1838 to 1967. Helping to do conservation work on these fragile art objects made from barkcloth, the group documented the designs on these pieces. Working with NMNH staff they created a working database of Samoan tapa design motifs.  Many of these tapa designs have ceased being used in communities and their documentation will be critical part of their reintroduction as part of undergraduate curriculum at the American Samoa Community College. The artists made a presentation of new works of tapa cloth and tattoo implements to the Smithsonian at the end of their visit (June 2014).

Kiowa Material Culture

Six members of the Kiowa tribe including Amie Tah-Bone, Phil Dupoint, Lisa Koomsa, Summer Morgan, Dane Poolaw, Kiowa Taryole, and Dr. Michael Jordan (anthropologist) came to work on the fan, regalia and game collections at NMNH and the National Museum of the American Indian. Collected by BAE anthropologist James Mooney (1861-1921), the Smithsonian holds the largest repository of Kiowa historical material culture. Working with NMNH staff, the group collected a wide range of information that will be utilized by the Kiowa Museum to develop a series of classes on Kiowa beadwork. As a result of this trip, participants are also now working on reintroducing traditional kickball game at the the museum’s 2015 Powwow for Unity. The knowledge obtained will also feed into an ethnographic field school run by Texas Tech University at the Kiowa Museum scheduled for summer of 2015.

British Columbia Collections Visit

A delegation consisting of three Indigenous language speakers jennifer kramer and Ian Reidand teachers – Elder Evelyn Winsor (Nuwaqawa), Clyde Tallio (Snxakila), and Ian Reid (‘Nusí) – and two anthropologists/curators – Pam Brown (Helitsuk band and University of British Columbia Museum) and Jennifer Kramer (UBC museum) – came to the Smithsonian to look at the collections. The group focused on objects from Rivers Inlet, British Columbia made by the Wuikinuxv and housed in the National Museum of Natural History. This work resulted in annotated digital videos for the participants and the community in addition to catalogue record updates. (May 2013)

Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures (GRASAC)

A delegation of seven members of the Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures (GRASAC) carried out research on the National Museum of Natural History’s Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi) collections from the Great Lakes region. This group consisted of Al Corbiere (historian and indigenous speaker); Ruth Phillips (material culture and art specialist); Mary Ann Corbiere (linguist specializing in Anishinaabemowin); Lewis Debassige (fluent speaker and Elder); Lisa Truong (research assistant and PhD student in the Cultural Mediations program at Carleton University); Crystal Migwans (research assistant, M.A. in art history at Carleton University and former assistant curator at the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation); and Rand Valentine (University of Wisconsin, linguist specializing in Anishinaabemowin). Working with Gwyn Isaac (NMNH) and David Penney (NMAI), the group examined the Anishinaabe collections, resulting in a detailed annotated digital video log of the consultation process and annotated object lists. (December 2012)

Yup’ik Sewers

Yup'ik SewersRecovering Voices provided funding for the Calista Elders Council (CEC) to hold Penerrluirturluki Kesianek: Preparing Our Men for Success.  Albertina Dull (age 94), Elsie Tommy (age 90), and Martina John (age 74)—three Yup'ik seamstresses—traveled with Ruth Jimmie, CEC director Mark John, University of Alaska, Fairbanks student Abby Moses, and anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan to Washington, DC to study sewing techniques in the Yup’ik collections at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History. (October 2012)

Yup’ik Consultation with Chuna McIntyre

In October 2012 and in conjunction with the Arctic Studies Center, Recovering Voices funded renowned Yup’ik artist Chuna McIntyre’s visit to Washington, D.C. to explore the Smithsonian’s Yup’ik collections. Chuna McIntyre worked with Smithsonian conservation staff to help identify Yup'ik cultural materials in the collection. He also engaged participants of the 18th Inuit Studies Conference and the public in Yup’ik dancing and garment-making. (October 2012)

Huna Master Weavers Visit SI Collections

hoonahFive master weavers from Hoonah came to study Tlingit and Haida woven artifacts in the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History. Chris Greenwald, Marjorie Peterson, Darlene See, Harlena Warford, and Daphne Wright focused on spruce-root woven basketry. The master weavers split their time between the two museum collections and examined several hundred objects. The visit resulted in the master weavers being inspired by a range of techniques and patterns, while the Smithsonian gained knowledge about the names of patterns, provenance and materials used. When not looking at these collections, members of the group consulted material in the National Anthropological Archives and the Human Studies Film Archives (HSFA). Chris Greenwald discovered a previously unknown photograph of her husband’s grandmother, while Harlene Warford and Darlene See went to the HSFA and listened to audio recordings of Tlingit songs and stories collected by Frederica de Laguna. These recordings were very informative and helped fill in the gaps of their own cultural knowledge. The visit was coordinated by the Huna Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the preservation of Huna Tlingit culture, with support from the NMNH’s Repatriation Office and Recovering Voices. For more information read about this visit in the anthropology department newsletter. (March 2012)