Independent Lens: What Was Ours

About This Episode

Like millions of indigenous people, many Native American tribes do not control their own material history and culture.

When Jordan Dresser returned to Wind River after graduating from college, he began working at the casino on the reservation. He was excited when the casino expressed interest in establishing a museum on the premises to tell the stories of the Shoshone and Arapaho, but was surprised to learn the tribes no longer had possession of many of their own artifacts. These objects — drums, pipes, eagle wing fans, medicine bags, weapons, and ceremonial attire — were sold off decades ago and taken far from home, only to be kept in storage, their sacred meanings slowly being lost to time. Most were located in museum collections around the country. Both Jordan and Mikala SunRhodes, a Shoshone high school student interested in her cultural history, wondered, could Wind River get them back?

They pair up with Philbert McLeod, a Shoshone elder and American military veteran whose last trip off the reservation was when he left to fight in Vietnam, where he nearly died. Philbert believes an old beaded charm passed down by an elder helped him survive combat. Reluctant to make the trip at first, he decides to travel with Jordan and Mikala because he and other elders want Wind River’s young people to know who they are and be inspired to bring the artifacts home. But ultimately it may be a local church that holds in its hands the fate of Wind River's sacred objects and tribal dreams of a museum of their own.