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Virtual museum brings artifacts closer

May 12, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Lost artifacts of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes have made a special trip back home from Chicago to be displayed in a kiosk at Central Wyoming College. Lived History-The Wind River Virtual Museum was revealed Saturday to tribe members from the Wind River Indian Reservation, CWC faculty, and other community members.

A collaboration between Wyoming PBS, Alpheus Media and Lord Cultural Resources took Eastern Shoshone elders Ralphaelita Stump and Philbert Mcloud, Northern Arapaho elders Robert Goggles and William C'Hair, Shoshone tribe member Jordan Dresser, and Northern Arapaho tribe member Mikala Sun Rhodes to the Chicago Field Museum where they were able to see artifacts that are more than 100 years old.

The artifacts, ranging from tools to weapons and clothing were gathered by collectors after they were lost by or stolen or taken from their rightful owners years ago. The items ended up at the museum and were boxed away for many decades. The group's journey was filmed and culminated in a 30-minute documentary that was shown Saturday after the unveiling of the virtual museum kiosk.

Making the trip

Before filming began, councils from each of the tribes met with producer Mat Harnes to discuss the project and give him the OK.

Hames said he visited the county many times and gradually started to learn more about the reservation and its people. He realized that the descriptions he came across many times from online stories of the reservation were false, and the rumored tension between both tribes was not present with the group. He added that many people told him the tribe members would not travel together in the same bus to the airport.

So when the time came to meet at one location, Hames said he was nervous as he waited for the group, and he was relieved to see everyone arrive and get along well. The group expressed some hesitation about boarding an airplane and flying to Chicago, but most of their fear was set aside as they came together for their history and culture.

Hames's initial goal was to build a virtual museum, but he said he found out it was going to be more than that.

"In the process of working with the elders, they started to make me aware that there was a much bigger story that they wanted told," Hames said.

Hames and his film crew followed the group and captured the emotions of the tribe members as they watched museum staff open the boxes for the first time in many years.

"You gain a deeper appreciation of objects," Sun Rhodes said in the film. "Maybe the younger people can see it and take pride in where they came from. ... It motivates me to learn more about it."

"What I saw right away was something good," Mcloud said when describing his initial reaction as the artifacts were carefully taken out of the boxes.

One artifact that impressed Mcloud was the "Roach" that he described as the "Shoshone hat." He said it was worn by American Indian men, especially as camouflage pieces during wartime. The Arapaho Eagle Wing Fan was described by C'Hair as being used in ceremonies and during prayers.

"It allowed them to hold on when so much was going on around them," Sun Rhodes said in the film about the meaning the artifacts had for his tribal ancestors.

Museum staff were amazed at the knowledge the tribal members shared with them. Some artifacts, per request of the elders, were not filmed because of their sacred values.

"It's not all right with me ... I have mixed emotions," Goggles said in the film after his visit to the museum. "It doesn't belong here."

After the film was shown, Mcloud, Dresser, C'Hair and Hames answered questions and shared their thoughts on the project and journey with the attendees at CWC. Mcloud suggested that historical artifacts from the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes be in one museum on the reservation. Hames said Mcloud had mentioned that same idea earlier in the day.

"He must really mean it, I was surprised. ... I think it's been an evolution for him," Hames said. "I don't think he would've said that a year ago."

Community enjoyed trip to the past

Northern Arapaho tribe member Mary Rose Goggles of Ethete thanked the group for putting together something that would benefit the younger people from the reservation.

"I'm hoping it's going to touch our children and remind them of who they are," she said. "They tend to forget who they are."

She recommended that the stories of more elders be recorded so the memories and history could be remembered long after they're gone. She recalled the stories her grandfathers told her when she was a little girl.

Sun Rhodes's father, Virgil Sun Rhodes, said he enjoyed the film and was happy his daughter was a part of it. He also was glad the film was dedicated to Goggles, who passed away before the completion of the project.

"The knowledge from him is greatly missed," he said, adding that initially Goggles hesitated going on the trip. "But he wanted to let people know."

Rajonna Vega, 29, of Ethete, said she could feel the emotions that the tribe members had felt in their journey.

"It really hits home, you can feel it, you can feel the emotion that comes from it," Vega said. "We have to do our part to teach future generations."

"The screening really adds texture to our understanding of local Native American history," CWC president Jo Anne McFarland said.

Hames is currently working on a longer documentary with some members of the reservation.

"I'll be able to go into the issue of the artifacts more in depth and how they ended so far away from Wind River and some of the different views on bringing them back versus not bringing them back," Hames said, adding that what he enjoyed most during the kiosk project was meeting many friendly tribe members.

The virtual museum can be seen online at or at the Intertribal Education and Community Center at CWC, and the short film will air at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on Wyoming PBS.