What Was Ours

An Arapaho elder visits a museum to explore tribal ancestral objects kept in boxes to learn how these artifacts vanished from his tribe.

Native American woman dancing traditional Native American dance
Independent Lens
Premiere Date
January 16, 2017
60 minutes
Funding Initiative
Open Call

Mat Hames

Emmy award-winning independent filmmaker Mat Hames is based in Austin, Texas. His films have screened at South by Southwest, HotDocs, and the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and have been broadcast on the Sundance Channel and PBS. Mat’s feature documentary, When I Rise, about African American mezzo-soprano and civil rights icon Barbara Conrad, Show more 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! Show less

Other ITVS Films
When I Rise
Executive Producer

Beth Hames

As co-owner and executive producer at Alpheus Media in Austin, Texas, Beth Hames has been producing documentaries, non-profit films, and commercial productions for the past two decades. Beth’s most recent film, A Fighting Chance, was broadcast on PBS in 2012 and follows five families who are living in poverty, showing what it really takes to get by in Show more today’s economic climate. The film takes viewers into the middle of real life scenarios that can lead to poverty, such as severe illness, job loss, and addiction, as well as the triumph of staying together and working to improve their circumstances despite the odds. Beth served as producer for the PBS films When I Rise and Last Best Hope, and the Sundance Channel’s Fighting Goliath. Another career highlight has been raising awareness about issues facing cancer survivors by capturing hundreds of their stories for the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Beth also produced the Emmy-winning 13-part series, State of Tomorrow, that aired on PBS stations across Texas in 2007. What Was Ours, which Beth produced, premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Her next project is a six-part series called Power Trip: The Story of Energy. Show less


Jordan Dresser

Jordan Dresser, co-producer of What Was Ours, was recently appointed Native American Fellow at one of the oldest museums in the U.S., the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. In 2015, Jordan received a master's degree in Museum Studies from the University of San Francisco. What Was Ours is Jordan’s first feature film. His knowledge of Show more reservation culture and history provided an essential and invaluable contribution to the success of the film. Show less

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The Film

Philbert McCleod, an elder of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, has lived on the isolated Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming all his life. He left only once, to fight in Vietnam, where he nearly died in three terrifying helicopter crashes. What helped him survive? Philbert believes an old beaded charm passed down to him by an elder saved his life. He had much taken from him by the war, but the charm has grounded him for more than 40 years. Artifacts like it have largely disappeared as the reservation, like Philbert, has endured a legacy of devastation dating back to Wind River’s inception.

When a movement starts up on Wind River to reclaim what's been lost, Philbert is swept along. Reluctant at first, the experience unleashes not the bad spirits he feared but a reconnection with his past that makes him stronger. He and other elders want youth like high school student Mikala and young journalist Jordan, both members of the Northern Arapaho tribe who also call Wind River home, to know who they are and to be inspired to bring home the artifacts which were taken away long ago. With Mikala and Jordan, Philbert journeys off the reservation for the first time since 1967 to explore Wind River's artifacts and learn how they vanished in the first place.

Weaving past and present, reality and myth, What Was Ours captures the sparks of an awakening as the youth search for ways to recover what's been lost.