Na­tive Cinema Show­case

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For 16 years, SWAIA has part­nered with the Smith­so­nian’s Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian to present Na­tive Cinema Show­case, an ar­ray of films made by and star­ring in­dige­nous and abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple around the world, dur­ing In­dian Mar­ket week in Santa Fe. Read on for a com­plete sched­ule of screen­ings and events (Page 57), as well as re­views of some of the movies and in­ter­views with film­mak­ers. Un­less oth­er­wise noted, all screen­ings are held at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum (113 Lin­coln Ave., 505-476-5200). All screen­ings are free; seat­ing is on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. Pro­grams are sub­ject to change. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit or

Five years ago, when the Wind River Reser­va­tion casino opened in River­ton, Wy­oming, the at­tached North­ern Ara­paho and East­ern Shoshone tribal mu­seum stood closed, its glass dis­play shelves empty. As the tribes (which share the reser­va­tion) had re­cently learned, many of their his­tor­i­cal cer­e­mo­nial items — ev­ery­thing from beaded moc­casins to painted hides to sinew quiv­ers — were owned by a nearby Epis­co­palian dio­cese and the Field Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in Chicago.

“It was baf­fling to me that there weren’t a lot of ar­ti­facts on the reser­va­tion,” says North­ern Ara­paho/ East­ern Shoshone tribal mem­ber Jor­dan Dresser. “As Na­tive peo­ple, we al­ways have to ne­go­ti­ate, we al­ways have to com­pro­mise, we al­ways to have to ask per­mis­sion. A lot of in­di­vid­u­als within Wy­oming have an idea that Na­tive peo­ple can’t do things on their own. They can’t take care of ... their own ar­ti­facts, their own money, their own lan­guage, their own ed­u­ca­tion . ... It gets old.”

Dresser’s com­ments about out­sider own­er­ship of tribal cul­tural items come from ,a newly re­leased in­de­pen­dent doc­u­men­tary that screens at 7 p.m. on Tues­day, Aug. 16, as part of the Na­tive Cinema Show­case of the Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket.

When the film opens, Dresser, who was raised on the Wind River reser­va­tion, has re­cently re­turned from studying jour­nal­ism in col­lege to take a job lead­ing the tribe’s op­er­a­tion to re­cover its cul­tural objects for its casino mu­seum. He is one of three Wind River Reser­va­tion mem­bers pro­filed in the film — Mikala Sun Rhodes, a teenage Ara­paho pow­wow princess, and Philbert McLeod, an East­ern Shoshone Viet­nam veteran and tribal elder, are the other two. Their three dis­tinct points of view of­fer an in­side look at how the two tribes at­tempt to an­swer a ques­tion posed early in the film: “How can we re­claim our past when we don’t own it any­more?”

Di­rec­tor Mat Hames found his sub­ject five years ago, when he was hired to film and pho­to­graph the re­main­ing cul­tural items for the tribes’ on­line vir­tual mu­seum. “To­gether,” Hames told “we learned there were thou­sands of items that were theirs scat­tered across the world. I got up­set. I couldn’t be­lieve it.” Rec­og­niz­ing that there was a larger story here, the Austin-based Hames re­turned to Wind River in 2011 with his cam­era and mi­cro­phone booms. Over the next four years, Hames would come back to the reser­va­tion 13 times, fol­low­ing his three sub­jects as they grad­u­ally learned how their sa­cred re­li­gious objects came into the pos­ses­sion of out­siders.

In the three tribal mem­bers make their case to lead­ers of an Epis­co­palian dio­cese some 150 miles away in Cody, Wy­oming. The church is deeply skep­ti­cal of lend­ing the items to a mu­seum housed at a casino, even the Wind River Ho­tel and Casino, where tribal pol­icy for­bids al­co­hol sales. But the church lead­ers are also forth­com­ing about the le­git­i­mate — but heart­break­ing — way they came to own these items. In the early 20th cen­tury, a wellloved dea­con served at the Wind River Reser­va­tion, lead­ing ser­vices and bar­ter­ing ba­sic food­stuffs to hun­gry, cash-poor tribal mem­bers who traded in many of their fam­i­lies’ cul­tural objects — a col­lec­tion the dea­con deeded to the dio­cese in her will. “In a way, I’m grate­ful for her to do that. With­out her, who knows where they could have ended up?” Dresser says in the film.

Later in the film, when a small tribal del­e­ga­tion flies to Chicago to meet with cu­ra­tors at the Field Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory, their re­cep­tion is far more clinical. An emer­i­tus cu­ra­tor ex­plains how, in the late 19th cen­tury, an­thro­pol­o­gists and an­tiq­ui­ties traders, be­liev­ing Na­tive Amer­i­cans to be a dy­ing race, swooped in to ac­quire as many tribal ma­te­ri­al­cul­ture items as they could. At the Field Mu­seum, the cam­era pans across hun­dreds of the two tribes’ an­ces­tral objects, all pristinely pre­served in slid­ing metal draw­ers in tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled fa­cil­i­ties, un­touched and un­seen for decades. To han­dle the objects made by their an­ces­tors, the tribal del­e­ga­tion must snap on la­tex gloves: The ar­ti­facts were once coated with ar­senic-based pes­ti­cides, the lit­eral residue of an era when ar­chae­ol­o­gists could only con­ceive of these items be­ing touched by de­vour­ing in­sects, not the feel­ing hands of hu­mans de­scended from those who made the objects.

“I knew that dur­ing the trip home, we weren’t go­ing to re­turn home with the ar­ti­facts. They wanted us to see them, pro­vide a cer­tain con­text for them, but they own them,” Dresser says on leav­ing the mu­seum. “It was a sad thought. We went there to go view pieces of our­self, but we had to leave them there.” Af­ter a meet­ing spent dis­cussing the items with an an­thro­pol­o­gist, one tribal elder jokes, “I would only tell him a lit­tle about the objects. If I told him more, he would write a book about it and make money off it.”

It’s this hu­man con­nec­tion to an­ces­tral tribal objects that sep­a­rates from the myr­iad other books and films on the sub­ject. For ex­am­ple, to ex­plain the value of a beaded medal­lion given him by his mother, tribal elder McLeod shows Super-8

What Was Ours

footage of his tour of duty in Viet­nam, where he was a he­li­copter gun­ner who sur­vived three crash land­ings un­der fire. He at­tributes his sur­vival to the medal­lion. “As long as the Creator is in­volved with it, it has power,” McLeod says in the film.

Over the four-year span of film­ing, the dio­cese slowly warms to the tribe’s re­quest to dis­play the church-owned North­ern Ara­paho and East­ern Shoshone ar­ti­facts. But tribal mem­bers rec­on­cile them­selves to the fact that the Field Mu­seum will, for the fore­see­able fu­ture, nei­ther loan nor re­turn their pat­ri­mo­nial items — so they fo­cus on do­ing what can be done. Mikala be­gins bead­ing her own medal­lions, one of which she gives to Dresser, who in turn is also do­ing what is pos­si­ble: head­ing off to a fully funded mas­ter’s pro­gram in mu­seum stud­ies, while land­ing a Na­tive Amer­i­can fel­low­ship at the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum in Salem, Mas­sachusetts. His goal isn’t to climb the heights of the mu­seum world but rather to re­turn home with a set of skills that will en­able him to pro­fes­sion­ally care for and cu­rate an­ces­tral ar­ti­facts.

is not nec­es­sar­ily a story about peo­ple who get all their items back. It’s not just about phys­i­cally re­claim­ing those items,” said Hames. “A lot of the film is also about teach­ing younger peo­ple how to cre­ate these items, how to have a con­nec­tion to them. It’s a coun­ter­point to the idea that Na­tive Amer­i­cans only ex­ist in the past. The cul­ture is very much alive, and it is go­ing to be passed on.” — Casey Sanchez

What Was Ours Elder­berry Keep­ers of the Game In At­tla’s Tracks

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