What Was Ours, Documentary about Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, to Air Nationally

A film about the artifacts, stories and history of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming’s Wind River Country/Fremont County is earning recognition around the globe.

What Was Ours is the second of a pair of documentaries about Native American artifacts. The first was produced by Wyoming PBS, compiling 360-degree shots of artifacts and audio of tribal elders describing them in English, Shoshone, and Arapaho. Wind River Virtual Museum aired in Wyoming in 2013.

What Was Ours was born out of filming Wind River Virtual Museum and will air on PBS nationally later this year. It tells the story of various tribal members on the Wind River Indian Reservation, “as we navigate the worlds of tribal identity, museums and reclaiming our sacred items,” said Jordan Dresser, of Fort Washakie, who co-produced the second documentary in addition to being featured in both.

“When doing the first one [the director] could see that there was a lot more to this and then it just sparked,” Dresser said.

The new film also documents Shoshone elder Philbert McLeod and powwow princess Mikala Sun Rhodes on a “journey of discovering their role in carrying on their heritage,” the film bio summarizes. Filmed over several years, it takes a personal look at the disappearing artifacts of tribal culture and the possibilities for their future.

Dresser and Sun Rhodes spoke to Riverton Middle School students this fall, an experience Dresser, a PR officer at the Wind River Hotel and Casino, described as rewarding.

“[Sun Rhodes is] a fancy dancer, she beads, she makes regalia,” Dresser explained. “She can talk about connection you make with an item when you make it.”

Dresser and Sun Rhodes later shared a conversation about getting younger generations to begin thinking about how museums acquire artifacts and where they belong.

Watch the video’s trailer here.

What Was Ours played at the USF Human Rights Film Festival in San Francisco and the  Thessaloniki Doc Market in Greece in March. Earlier, it played in the Vision Maker Film Festival in Nebraska and premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Mont.

“Some people from home went to the premiere in Missoula and they really loved it,” Dresser said. “In the future they’re planning to do a screening here [in Fremont County].”

In the meantime, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian selected the film to screen at its film festival in August. The documentary’s accolades and screenings are all shared regularly on the What Was Ours Facebook page.

After the film’s completion, Dresser was appointed Native American Fellow at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Last year, he earned his Master’s Degree in museum studies from the University of San Francisco. He now works at the Wind River Hotel and Casino near Riverton and has noble aspirations:

“I would love to work with museums with tribal collections and continue to tell their stories. A lot of these items hold power and have stories behind them that paint a bigger context about native people and how we live and who we are,” he said. “My dream for us here is to have a museum for the Northern Arapaho people and for the Eastern Shoshone because they would help younger Native people make a connection and learn about themselves while also having outsiders learn about who we are and where we’re going.”

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About Wyoming’s Wind River Country/Fremont County

Wyoming’s Wind River Country is the authentic, untamed West. It holds the answers to your adventurous spirit. Come discover new things like the best route to Yellowstone, see an Indian powwow, ride a horse or holler at a rodeo, pan for real gold, and hike in country that will take your breath away. Find the pace to think, the room to breathe, and the uncontrived adventure to rejuvenate your soul in Wind River Country.