Telling tribal stories

2015-06-30 11.31.35

A film crew follows the author for the documentary produced by Alpheus Media, including director Mat Hames.
Photo by Alpheus Media

Having a camera follow your every move can be a bit intimidating.

In the beginning, you find yourself incredibly self-conscious of your body, your every movement, angle and pose. Over time, the camera fades into the background along with your insecurities. Your walls come down as the lens zooms into its original focus: to capture your story.

While growing up on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming, I always wanted to be a reporter. As an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, I dreamt of telling stories about tribal people in an accurate, fair and honest light. This passion led me to attend school at the University of Wyoming where I majored in journalism.

Throughout my experiences as a reporter, I learned that interviewing a person requires skill, practice and patience. Shy, nervous or scared, people naturally clam up when asked a series of questions. I often found myself, during the first five minutes of an interview, taking it slow and making the person feel comfortable. Once they feel at ease, they slowly open up. The story starts to come alive.


M.J. Scanlon Photography for Wyoming Public Media

Using these skills, I traveled the county working for various newspapers as a reporter. Wanting to give back to my community, I started work at the Wind River Hotel and Casino as the Public Relations Officer where I was assigned to help curate a cultural room that opened in March of 2012. Titled, The Northern Arapaho Experience, this small exhibition tells the story of the tribe through artifacts, paintings, photographs and video recordings and was met with great praise from tribal members, museum professionals and visitors.

It was also during this time when I first met filmmaker Mat Hames. Based in Austin, Texas, Hames and his film company Alpheus Media strive to tell stories about the human experience. In 2011, Hames was hired by Wyoming PBS to work on a project that would become, The Wind River Virtual Museum. Throughout the world, museums house objects that belong to various tribes across the country. The Field Museum in Chicago is home to a large collection of Arapaho and Shoshone artifacts. The project made 3D shots of these objects available online with tribal elders telling the story of the artifact in both English and in their native tongue. The footage was then loaded onto a Kiosk that tribal members in Wyoming could access.

In 2012, I traveled with the film crew to Chicago where I watched the tribal elders interact with the artifacts that were made by our ancestors. It was a powerful moment that made me question how museums from around the world posses such large collections of Native American objects. It was also in Chicago where Hames first began capturing my story. Over the course of four years, Hames has filmed my journey as I faced the enormous task of creating The Northern Arapaho Experience while enrolled in school at the University of San Francisco where I’m pursuing a Master’s Degree in museum studies.

In storage

The author at PEM with Karen Kramer, PEM’s curator of Native American Art, and the film crew.
Photo by Alpheus Media

The film crew has also visited me here in Salem where I am currently working at PEM as a Native American Fellow in the department of Integrated Media under the direction of Associate Director Ed Rodley. My experiences in front of the camera have been real, raw and emotional. In the beginning, it was difficult to adjust since I was used to being the reporter who would tell other peoples’ stories. I never thought anyone would be interested in telling mine.


Examining contemporary objects that will be in PEM’s fall exhibition ‘Native Fashion Now.’ Photo by Alpheus Media

Next, Hames and his crew are busy editing together the film Wind River that will air sometime next year. I’m excited and anxious to see the final piece.

See the recently released trailer here:

For now, I’m finishing up my summer at PEM where I’ve been working on two rich projects. The first project involves increasing the representation of Native American artists online by providing content that can be uploaded onto Wikipedia. The second project involves drafting a proposal for a digital map that highlights how difficult it is to accurately pinpoint the location and origin of their various tribal objects due to the nomadic nature and displacement of tribal communities. Rodley and the Integrated Media staff have been great resources, inspiring me to dream and think big.


Photo by Alpheus Media

In the future, I want to use my knowledge to help my tribe create a museum that will tell our stories the way we want to. I dream of creating a place that will help the younger generation connect with their Arapaho identify and realize how beautiful and powerful it can be. I hope that my story will be a spark that ignites a flame within others and a hope that not all is lost.


Jordan Dresser is a graduate student at the University of San Francisco pursuing a master’s degree in museum studies. He is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe located on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming.

Editor’s Note: The 2016 Native American Fellowship position descriptions will be available in January, 2016.


One Comment

  1. Darlene Lopez says:

    Keep up the good works and our dreams and hopes alive, Jordan!

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