By Jay Scherf

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band has formed a partnership with UC Berkeley, the Western National Parks Association, and the Native American Language Center at UC Davis to transcribe the 78,000 pages of ethnographic Harrington Notes relevant to the Amah Mutsun. The project brings tribal members, students, and volunteers into the transcription and interpretation process. Here, Amah Mutsun Land Trust Project Assistant Jay Scherf shares some of his reflections on transcribing the Harrington Notes.

Though it feels strange at times reading words that Doña Ascención Solorsano spoke to John P. Harrington ninety years ago, we realize that in a way Doña Ascención was speaking to us as well. She didn’t give Harrington tens of thousands of pages worth of information for nothing. She must have known how much she was leaving to her people; that she was providing invaluable records of Mutsun culture and history so her descendants could fulfill their sacred obligation to the Creator.

She must have known this more than Harrington did. Otherwise, maybe he would have attempted to organize his notes, to clean up his chicken scratch and translate it out of the phonetic language he made up. Alas, this task now falls on us, a team of Amah Mutsun Tribal members, UC Berkeley students, and volunteers working with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust.

But we are meeting the task head-on. In the 2015 project year alone, our team transcribed about 9,000 pages of notes into digital format. We also translated 1,500 pages to make the information accessible to a non-academic audience. The year’s work culminated with the publishing of the first volume of Mutsun Ways, a digital newsletter meant to disseminate information gleaned from the notes to Tribal members. Formatted, interpreted, and with added photographs and commentary from contemporary Tribal leaders, we intend to publish themed editions of Mutsun Ways four to six times per year.

Though many thousands of pages remain, the thought of transcribing them seems less daunting than it did just a year ago. We can look back on the progress of our efforts, measured both in the quantity of pages transcribed and in the creative partnerships formed to facilitate this work. Harrington’s notes are being brought out of the archives, page by page; Doña Ascención’s wisdom is helping the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band return to the path of their ancestors.

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