Sunday, February 5, 2017

Documentary Review: What Was Ours

"What Was Ours" is a documentary from Indie Lens released January 17 on PBS.  I enjoyed this.  It is about the Shoshone and Arapaho from Wyoming, Wind River Reservation.  When the economic foundation of the Native Americans changed, many sold their artifacts to museums, or in one case to a Deacon of the Episcopal Church, and the items were lost to the tribe.
This documentary tells three stories, two young Arapaho, one a young woman, Mikala, a high school senior.  She was princess of a Denver March Pow Wow.  Her family is important to hear, going back through generations.  He tells the story of her grandfather who was a previous keeper of artifacts.   A young man, Jordan, interested in bringing the items back to the reservation.  He is interested in the storytelling of his paper, which tells you are part of a bigger picture.   Lastly an elderly Shoshone, Philbert, who served in the Viet Nam War as a helicopter gunner.  He always carried his talisman as a good luck charm.  All three are trying to maintain their Indian ways in a modern way.  Some of the items which have left the reservation were sacred objects.
There had been a museum on the reservation,  but the items were removed when there was no longer anyone to care for them.  Philbert works for the casino, and a space in the casino set aside for a museum.
These three are part of a group which traveled to Chicago to see items stored or displayed there.  However the focus on the film is the return of items owned by the Episcopalian Church; those which had been at the museum.  In the end, there is a cooperation between the reservation, the church and the casino which lead to the items being returned and displayed on the reservation.
This documentary is fascinating.  It shows a people trying to tight rope two cultures.  This struggle for their artifacts is just one part of that struggle.  The colors and the artwork in some of the pieces is just fascinating.  They also talk about the history behind some of the pieces they are creating contemporarily.  There is also insight given on how some of the ancient pieces were used.

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