What Was Ours

What Was Ours

  • BY Mat Hames | IN Identity
    Premiered January 16, 2017

About the Film

Like millions of indigenous people, many Native American tribes do not control their own material history and culture. For the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes living on the isolated Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, new contact with lost artifacts risks opening old wounds but also offers the possibility for healing. What Was Ours is the story of how a young journalist and a teenage powwow princess, both of the Arapaho tribe, traveled together with a Shoshone elder in search of missing artifacts in the vast archives of Chicago's Field Museum. There they discover a treasure trove of ancestral objects, setting them on a journey to recover what has been lost and build hope for the future. MORE

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.

The Filmmaker

Emmy award-winning independent filmmaker Mat Hames is based in Austin, Texas. Mat’s feature documentary, When I Rise, about African American mezzo-soprano and civil rights icon Barbara Conrad, premiered at SXSW and internationally at HotDocs. It was also featured on Independent Lens. After playing in 10 festivals in the US, the UK, and Canada, the film was nominated for an IDA Documentary Award. Prior to When I Rise, Mat directed the 2008 documentary Fighting Goliath for Robert Redford’s Sundance Preserve. It was the official selection of 12 film festivals, awarded the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best Documentary Short at the Red Rock Film Festival, and the Golden Sun at the Barcelona Festival Internacional de Cinema del Medi Ambient. In 2006, Mat was knighted by the King of Belgium for drawing attention to the efforts of the Belgian Resistance during World War II in his first PBS film Last Best Hope. Mat's short doc Austin Revealed played as part of the Faces of Austin SXSW Showcase in 2014. He’s the co-founder of Alpheus Media, a film company in Austin, and is on the Board of Directors for Lights, Camera, Help! LESS

Film Credits

A Film by
Mat Hames

Directed and Produced by
Mat Hames

Executive Producer
Beth Hames

Executive Producers
Sally Jo Fifer
Lois Vossen
Shirley Sneve

Jordan Dresser

Director of Photography
Wilson Waggoner
David Layton

Edited by
Greg Wright
Ginny Patrick
Sandra Guardado
Mat Hames

Post Production Supervisor
Melinda Bonifay

Original Score by
Nathan Halpern and Chris Ruggerio

Courtesy of Copticon Music and Jasper vs Sanchez (ASCAP)

Line Producers
Julianna Brannum
Aaron B. Smith

Location Production Manager
Virginia B. Moore

Production Coordinator
Anne Nagelkirk

Additional Camera
Mat Hames
Thomas Danielczek
Nathan Warren

Additional Editors
Leah Marino
Heather Courtney
Karen Skloss

Still Photographer
Virginia B. Moore

Grant Writer and Story Consultant
Joanna Rabiger

Historical Consultants
John Washakie (Shoshone)
Henry Stamm, PhD.
Jonathan Haas, PhD.
Emma Hansen (Pawnee)
Matt Stirn
William C’Hair (Arapaho)

Production Sound Mixers
Alex Herrera
Marshall Potter
Mike Emmer
Giles Morin

Sound Design and Re-recording Mixer
Eric Friend

Sound Editor
Korey Pereira

Willow Pingree
Scout River
North Bear

Jacob Waters
Grace Martindale
KiYa Young-Moghaddam
Nikki Larance Tripp
Nolan Rapp

Daniel Stuyck

Super 8 Film Transfer
Expressions in Video

Rights and Clearances
Melinda Bonifay

Archival Footage Research
Melinda Bonifay
Julianna Brannum
Mat Hames

Deidre Howard
Maria Clara Garcia
Linda K. Carr
Grace Martindale
KiYa Young-Moghaddam
Austin Transcription
Princeton Transcriptions, Inc.
Taji Senior

Post-Production Interns
Jackson Alexander
James Magazzino
Zachary Machen
Kelsey Duncan
William Landry
Paul Abide
Ann Sheehy
Paige Brauer
Taji Senior

Additional Photography
Matt Lankes

Additional Design
Midnight Marauder

Chicago Locations
Josh Copeland

Supervising Producer for ITVS
Michael Kinomoto

Supervising Producer for Vision Maker Media
Georgiana Lee

Justine Jacob

Laura Cannon, CPA

Ruby Calvert
Bob Connelly
Geoff O’Gara
Lynette St. Clair (Shoshone)
Orville St. Clair (Shoshone)
Starr Weed (Shoshone)
Molly O’Neal (Shoshone)
Sandra Iron Cloud (Arapaho)
Reba Teran (Shoshone)
Sergio Maldonado (Arapaho)
Andi Clifford (Arapaho)
Gary Collins (Arapaho)

Archival Footage & Photography
Central Wyoming College, Intertribal Center
Dresser Family
The Field Museum
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Mildred Stead Capron
National Archives and Records Administration
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institute
Philbert McCleod
Powel Hinckley Collection
Sara Wiles
Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
SunRhodes Family
University of South Carolina, Moving Image Research Collections

Special Thanks
Cleve Bell
Paula Birmbaum
Buffalo Bill Museum, Cody
Dinah Cardin
Cheyenne Frontier Days
Crow Fair Powwow
Denver March Powwow
Eastern Shoshone Business Council
Ethete Powwow
Robert Gordon
Todd Guenther
Jason Hillhouse
Jamie Kelly
Patty Kessler
Karen Kramer
Northern Arapaho Business Council
Old Town Coffee
Riverton Museum
Marjorie Schwarzer
Jef Sewell
Justin Sewell
Randy Shaw
Priya Sircar
Jill Tidman
Alaka Wali
Wind River Hotel and Casino
Wind River Unity
Ziibiwing Center

What Was Ours is a co-production of Alpheus Media, Inc., Vision Maker Media, and Independent Television Service (ITVS) with major funding
provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This film was produced by Alpheus Media, Inc. which is solely
responsible for its content.

© 2016 Alpheus Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Who owns history? Is it more important for sacred objects to be available for the world to see via museums, or for indigenous peoples to own them once again?


  • American Indian Film Festival
    Best Documentary Feature
  • National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
    Western Heritage Award
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Who owns history? Is it more important for sacred objects to be available for the world to see via museums, or for indigenous peoples to own them once again?