In this piece created for Independent Lens by filmmaker Mat Hames, we get to know more about Eastern Shoshone tribal elder Philbert McLeod, one of the stars of Hames’ Independent Lens documentary What Was Ours. Philbert had an incredible breadth of knowledge about his tribe’s history, and fought for America in Vietnam, for which he received the Purple Heart. He believed an old beaded charm passed down by an elder helped protect him when he was in combat.
McLeod, who died in 2016, remembers first hearing English as a child listening to a transistor radio and recalls what it was like in the mid-fifties to go to school on the reservation. “If a student was caught speaking Shoshone, the teacher would tell him, ‘Go to the blackboards,’” he reminisces. “[And he’d write] ‘I will not speak Shoshone ever again,’ 500 times.”