Our Voices on the Air: Results on a conference exploring the nexus of community radio and language revitalization

Mason, Michael
Benally, Suzanne
Mason, Michael
Benally, Suzanne
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The Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative partnered with the NGO Cultural Survival to host a conference titled Our Voices on the Air: Reaching New Audiences through Indigenous Radio in Washington, DC, from July 31 through August 2, 2012. The conference convened Indigenous radio producers, linguists, and language and media advocates from Canada, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and the United States, and featured panel discussions, workshops, and one-on-one interviews with participating producers. By providing an opportunity for radio producers committed to broadcasting content in Indigenous languages to share their experiences and learn about each others’ approach to developing content, the conference inspired the production of innovative programming and promoted collaborations to enhance the role that Indigenous language radio plays within communities around the world. In every community, the struggle for language revitalization and access to community radio reflects a larger effort for human rights and self-determination in communities around the world. Many participants shared their experiences of intimidation and government intervention in their radio and revitalization work. Yet radio is a strong and widely accessible educational medium, and communities can developed and sustain a station with relative ease. In some communities, a dynamic combination of immersion programs for youth and community radio broadcasts in endangered languages has led to significant revitalization. At the conference, producers and language activists also created new collaborations with participants, sharing content across their stations and formalizing two interrelated broadcast networks, one based in the US and the other in Peru. Cultural Survival and Smithsonian continue collaborating with local Indigenous radio producers to expand on the stories and recordings from the conference to develop an international radio series for broadcast to a wide community and public radio audience. The series will tell the story of the endangerment of the world’s languages, the importance of revitalizing these languages, and the crucial role that community radio programming can play in revitalizing Indigenous languages. Practical information, large-scale strategies, inspiration for a shared struggle, and a desire to inform the broader public about these issues created a successful conference that Wena Tait from a Maori-language station elegantly summed up with these words: Survival is the treasured goal for all of us, and our language is our strength.
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