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The Modern West podcast rolls out a new season tracing the history of the Plains Indian Wars from the perspective of the tribes

The logo for the "Mending the Hoop" season of the podcast "The Modern West"
Luke Foering
Wyoming Public Media

For the last few years, Wyoming Public Radio has been producing a podcast that tells long form narrative stories for and about Westerners. It’s called The Modern Westand we’ll be rolling out the sixth season of the podcast in the coming weeks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska sat down with the host and producer of the show, Melodie Edwards, to hear what she’s up to this time around.

Editor’s note: This story has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Melodie Edwards: I was a longtime reporter for Wyoming Public Radio, and I was covering the Wind River Reservation for a lot of years. And one of my first stories was the Bighorn water adjudication case, which was the longest running lawsuit in U.S. history, and the two tribes were essentially fighting for their water rights for decades. I also covered the rates of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People from actually before there was even a hashtag about it. But there was one thing that I always noticed – and I just kind of noticed this right off the bat when I started doing this kind of work was that when I would talk to people was – no matter what the issue was, we always ended up talking about how this problem had its roots in history. And of course, that part of the interview would never make it into my story, because it was always too into the weeds, and too complicated for the kind of shorter stories I was doing. But with the Modern West podcast, we're all about digging into the weeds and connecting history to the present. And the Wyoming Humanities Council was super interested in supporting that same kind of work, and so we ended up striking up a really amazing partnership with them.

This season, we're just going to be telling the story of the Plains Indian Wars, from the point of view of the Plains tribes, and really showing how it doesn't feel like it's distant history to them at all, and how it still feels very raw. In fact, that's the word that one Lakota Elder actually used when I asked her about this history. But most importantly, this season, we're going to really be looking at how the Plains tribes are finding these incredible ways to start healing that history.

Kamila Kudelska: That sounds like a very big project. How do you plan to tell the story?

ME: The first few episodes will be telling just a chronological story of the Plains Indian Wars from the Sand Creek Massacre, that’s where we'll be starting. That was in 1864. And the reason we're starting with the Sand Creek Massacre is that event, in the minds of the Plains tribes, that leads directly to all the other battles that go up through Wounded Knee Massacre, and that one was in 1890.

In the history books, we ended up learning about all of these battles as sort of isolated incidents. But when you talk to tribes and tribal history keepers, it all started with Sand Creek. That’s when the Colorado cavalry ended up killing over 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. It was really, very gruesome, there were a lot of atrocities committed by the cavalry, and a lot of the people that were killed were Elders and women and children. My photographer, Ana Castro, and I actually made a journey out to visit the site just a few weeks after the anniversary of that event. And it was intense. It was a very emotional experience for both of us. And it's kind of something that I think every Westerner ought to make, that journey. At some point in their life, to go out and see Sand Creek.

KK: It sounds like you're really trying to focus on the Indigenous perspective. How does that work when you're a non-native journalist?

ME: That was one of my number one concerns. I have spent my career writing about Native American issues. So I knew that I had the background. But I wanted to make sure that I had plenty of help for this one. Early on, we brought in Marty Strenczewilk. He's an Ojibwe playwright with the Creative Nations Artist Collective in Boulder, and he is our story editor for this season, and he has just been totally invaluable.

And then I also interviewed descendants of the people who survived these wars, so that I can really tell the story in their words. And I also tracked down the words of some of the warriors who are actually in these battles, and we hired Indigenous actors to re-enact their stories. So we're really getting a very up close perspective of these battles.

Plus, I'm doing something really different for this season. At the end of each episode, I'm sitting down with an Indigenous guide and talking about how to tell the story accurately. And so I brought in Dr. Jeff Means, an Oglala Lakota member and a history professor here at the University of Wyoming. And he knows this history like the back of his hand, and he also just cracks me up. And we just have a very good time, every single time we get together and talk. So he's just been wonderful.

KK: That sounds very interesting. How will you connect this history with the present moment?

ME: In the second half of this season, after we kind of work through telling the story of the history, we're going to look at some of the ways in which we can really see the Plains Indian Wars affecting people's everyday lives. I visited the Fort Peck Reservation in

Montana to see how the tribes there are bringing back wild bison and bringing back that cultural way of life. We got to attend a bison release ceremony there and it was just the most joyful experience. My photographer Ana came with me and we just took amazing photographs of this event as well.

I also interviewed Lynette Grey Bull – I'm sure that's a name that lots of Wyomingites know – she ran for congress in the last election. But she's also the director of an organization called Not Our Native Daughters that's working to address the problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. And she did a really great job in my interview of articulating how that problem is a continuation of the policies of genocide that killed millions of Indigenous people throughout U.S. history. And then I also talked to Jordan Dresser and Yufna Soldier Wolf, about their work on the Wind River Reservation to bring back the remains of their ancestors who were buried at the Carlisle Indian boarding school, and how just bringing back those remains has really led to the process of healing.

So I just want to make it really clear that this won't be the usual approach to telling stories about Indian Country. A lot of times, that kind of reporting ends up focusing on a lot of bad news. And the reason that we're calling this season Mending the Hoop is because it's really, ultimately about renewal and healing and about tribal sovereignty.

KK: Awesome, this sounds like a very interesting season. Where can our listeners find the season? And when is the first episode out?

ME: The trailer actually is already out, it came out this week and you can hear it on the Wyoming Public Media website. Episode #1 is going to be coming out in a couple of weeks here on February 22, and we'll be rolling out new ones every other week after that.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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