(Riverton, WY) Four discerning stories of missing and murdered Native women were portrayed in the film “Who She Is” at a screening held on Saturday, September 10 at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center at Central Wyoming College.
Co-Directors Jordan Dresser and Sophie Barksdale of Caldera Productions opened the screening with a history of the making of the film that told the posthumous stories of Sheila Hughes, Lela C’Hair, Abbi Washakie, Joceyln Watt.
Dresser and Barksdale had met in 2019 through a different project, “Home from School: The Children Of Carlisle,” and had talked about projects they would like to do. Dresser said that what had captured his interest in the making of “Who She Is” was the story of Ashley Loring of Browning, Montana, who went missing on June 5, 2017. He had a friend that worked in the town’s library who took a photo of the empty chair that Ashley used to sit in while doing her homework.
“It stuck with me,” he said, “Looking at the chair, wondering where she is. As we were talking, there were so many cases here…and so the idea was born from there. We collaborated very closely on this project and wanted to tell the stories of these women, because over time we feel like with MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) and now MMIP, sometimes when it’s just the person’s name, it doesn’t really tell a lot about the person…who they are, where they come from, what they were like, what they did in life, what they did with their lives…we thought that was very important because that’s who it’s about. It’s about them and their stories and about what ultimately happened to them.”
Dresser said that the foundation of the Arapaho and Shoshone people “is about love and caring for each other,” he said. “Over time, especially due to colonization, we picked up different traits…picked up traits of being selfish. One of the powers of Native culture is that we all take care of each other, while America is an individualistic culture with individualistic ideas and ownership.”
Drugs and alcohol are factors that affect how a person goes missing and potentially ends up dead. “As a community, we have to have really tough conversations,” Dresser said. “If you sell drugs, you’re a part of the problem as well.”
Dresser said that there are a lot of sources out there available for MMIW, but that “we just don’t know about them, or some people don’t know how to utilize them.” He said that Browning Tribe (Blackfeet Nation) in Montana has an alert system where if a person goes missing, “it kicks it to the local law enforcement and everywhere,” he said. “The tribe is a part of the Rocky Mountain Region and has agreed to work with us in developing it here.”
In “Who She Is,” a family member of each victim narrates each of the women’s stories.
“That is very important to us,” Dresser said, crediting Jonathan Thunder as the Art Director for the film. “We got to make a very beautiful art piece…we’re very lucky to work with the families to craft these stories together. It’s a very tough thing to tell your story, but it’s also a very powerful thing. These women are forever.”
Sophie Barksdale addressed the families of the victims featured in the film, who was present at the screening.
“We are so grateful for your time and your strength in sharing these stories,” she said. “Each woman’s story…we know that you really had to delve for that strength to get through narrating that, and we are so grateful to you and that effort. We will carry these women with us forever; we have worked and spent time with your loved ones for three years…cried over laundry, sat on the couches…and we thank you for sharing your loved ones with us.”
Barksdale also thanked those who were involved in and supported the film’s production and made the project possible, such as the Wyoming Council for Women, Wyoming Humanities, Wyoming Division of Victim Services and the MMIP Task Force, and many more.
“We are taking this film around Wyoming; we want this film to be seen by as many people as possible so that folks see this issue presented in a different way.”
The screening tour of “Who She Is” takes place from September 2022 through February 2023 throughout Wyoming with the intent of bringing the film, issues, and ideas for action around MMIW/P to audiences around the state.
For more information about “Who She Is” and other Caldera Production films, visit: calderaproductions.com