An award-winning documentary, available now to stream online, follows Wind River Indian Reservation tribal members as they track down historical artifacts.
Who owns the past?
This is a question asked frequently by tribal members. Many artifacts now stored in museum vaults or displayed in curated collections were taken from graves decades ago. Burial items, though, are sacred both to the deceased and their living family members.
The documentary film What Was Ours features the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming as they track down their historical artifacts — beautiful drums, sacred pipes, weapons, and ceremonial attire. They find one collection owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming and other artifacts in the Chicago Field Museum.
The film follows a young Arapaho journalist (Jordan Dresser), a teenage powwow princess (Mikala Sun Rhodes), and a Shoshone elder and Vietnam veteran (Philbert McLeod). The trio travel to Chicago Field Museum to explore these artifacts and rediscover their meaning. By uncovering objects kept in boxes for many years, they understand their people in new ways and clarify their own lives’ purpose.
What Was Ours won Best Documentary Feature at the American Indian Film Festival and was a selection in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Native Cinema Showcase. Other accolades for the documentary include Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ Best Feature and Best of Class and the Western Heritage Award.
The film can be streamed on Amazon video and will stream on PBS later this summer. Its next screening is scheduled for April 18 at International House in New York City. The free event opens with a reception at 7 p.m. and the screening begins at 7:30.