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‘Indigenous intelligence ... goes back thousands of years’: Listening to ancient Native voices in modern times

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, producer Gary Glassman and director Daniel Golding talk about “Language is Life,” a Rhode Island PBS episode about the value of Native American languages

The latest episode of "Native America," on Rhode Island PBS, explores the value of Native American languages.Handout

PROVIDENCE — In some tribes, as few as a dozen members can still speak their Native language fluently.

But a new episode of “Native America,” a series on Rhode Island PBS, highlights the value of those languages and the people who are fighting to save them.

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, “Native America” executive producer Gary Glassman joins Daniel Golding, director of the “Language is Life” episode, in discussing Native American cultures and languages.

The “Language is Life” episode profiles Native people who have dubbed movies such as “Star Wars” into Navajo, discovered wax recordings of their people singing and talking from 100 years ago, and crawled into caves to find and decipher examples of early written language.


Glassman, a Rhode Islander, said he discovered that not much of what is taught in grade schools and high schools reflects the reality of Native cultures throughout North and South America. So he set out to create a series that shows Native people speaking for themselves, reflecting ancient traditions in modern ways.

“The cultures are deep, and the traditions are traditional knowledge and Indigenous intelligence that goes back thousands of years,” he said. “But it’s being used today in all kinds of professions from astronauts and engineers and scholars. Native people are having an impact on our society and have an incredible amount to contribute. And we should be listening to them, particularly in relationship to the environment, government, and medicine.”

Golding — a member of the Quechan Indian Nation in Winterhaven, Calif., who lives in Yuma, Ariz. — said he wanted to introduce people to the richness of the Native languages. “If these languages are lost,” he said, “we’re losing a lot of knowledge.”

Golding called for more investment in saving Native languages, saying, “I think right now we’re at a very important time with technology and all this stuff that’s happening and the loss of our speakers. We’re at a crossroads.”


A screening of the “Language of Life” episode and a panel discussion are scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 29, at the Robert J. Higgins Welcome Center’s Hope Room on the University of Rhode Island campus. The panel discussion will include Glassman, Golding, Tomaquag Museum Executive Director Lorén M. Spears, Narragansett/Niantic Elder Dawn Dove, and Sherenté Harris, a “two-spirit” member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe studying at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.