Indigenous Voices

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century written notes on spoken Native American languages are valuable in the effort to sustain and revive those languages after a long history of suppression and loss. Many of the notes have been transcribed by Smithsonian online volunteers through our Transcription Center and are now available for researchers. There is also movement to revive sign language that allowed tribes to communicate across hundreds of spoken languages. To sample recorded music from a wide range of Native American cultures past and present, visit Smithsonian Folkways records.

The Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices program collaborates with contemporary Native communities to unearth cultural knowledge embedded in the texts held in museum collections.

The Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity by showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world over four days of free screenings in Washington, D.C. Since 2016, the annual festival has opened on February 21, International Mother Language Day. In 2019, the Mother Tongue Film Festival is featured as a major event of the United Nations’ Year of Indigenous Languages.

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