Documentary chronicles traditions, resilience of Wind River Indian Reservation
University of Wyoming
A new documentary featuring members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes debuted last week. The film, titled “Good Medicine,” shows the connections among sacred ceremonies, powwow dancing, and the physical and emotional benefits of skateboarding.
Shot on the Wind River Indian Reservation and in Riverton, the film features characters including James Trosper, the great-great-grandson of Chief Washakie and director of the High Plains American Indian Research Institute at the University of Wyoming. Also featured are Melissa Redman and her 12-year-old son, Patrick Smith, as well as Teton Trosper, Josie Trosper, Kayson “Ezekiel” Jones and Will Hanway. The Eagle Spirit Dancers and Singers also appear in the film.
Jackson Tisi, a New York filmmaker originally from Wyoming, directed 'Good Medicine,' the new documentary featuring people of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Photo courtesy: Jackson Tisi/University of Wyoming
The film was directed by Jackson Tisi, a New York filmmaker originally from Wyoming. The film is part of a series commissioned by Facebook. Executive producers include actress Sofia Vergara, Luis Balaguer, Noah Meisner, Kathleen Grace and Emiliano Calemzuk.
“When Jackson Tisi contacted UW High Plains American Indian Research Institute, he explained how, in the media, we see negativity on a regular basis,” Trosper says. “He said, ‘We want to create a film that is positive,’ and I agreed to help on that basis. Our goal is really to get a positive message out and maybe help others not familiar with the Wind River Indian Reservation develop a positive perspective of our community.”
Tisi shot the film on location in October 2018 with a small crew of eight.
“‘Good Medicine’ is a Native term that refers to anything that can bring peace, healing and positivity,” Tisi says. “In this film, we explore how elders find good medicine through their traditions and how the youth on the reservation have found it through skateboarding.”
The film focuses on the resilience of Native Americans. It displays how positivity can allow tribal members to navigate the challenges of historical trauma, finding a way to thrive while living in two cultures: the indigenous and the mainstream.
“Youth and elders of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes find peace and healing through traditions and positive core values such as love, kindness, sacrifice, honesty, loyalty, compassion, respect, forgiveness and spirituality,” Trosper says. “These values have been passed down through the generations and are relevant in the lives of today’s youth.”
That’s a departure from past national media depictions of the Wind River Indian Reservation, which often have focused on poverty, crime and dire statistics. Past stories by the New York Times, Business Insider and others have followed this pattern, reinforcing negative stereotypes of the reservation and leading to rebuttals from tribal members.
In contrast, “Good Medicine” puts Native voices at the forefront and shows the many paths to resilience and health, from dancing in traditional regalia to working out tricks in the skate park in Riverton.
The film will be screened on the UW campus in the College of Arts and Sciences auditorium April 17 during a cultural presentation sponsored by Wyoming Humanities. The cultural presentation will be in conjunction with an Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Symposium focusing on ways the state of Wyoming and the Wind River Indian Reservation can work together to encourage entrepreneurship and economic development.
“The cultural arts and creative economy are vital to our future -- both in terms of creating a quality of life that will attract and keep new residents, and in pure economic development terms,” says Shannon Smith, executive director of Wyoming Humanities.
Wyoming is a familiar setting for Tisi, who worked for three years as video editor at Teton Gravity Research in Wilson. Originally from Wyoming, Tisi left Jackson Hole to attend film school at New York University. His background in adventure sports videos and time spent in Wyoming gave him the idea to pitch the film to Facebook.
“This film is about healing, and it means a lot to me,” Tisi says. “I’ll always be grateful for the hospitality and trust the Arapaho and Shoshone people gave us. So many people worked really hard on this film, and I’m proud to finally put it out.”