© 2024 Wyoming Public Media
800-729-5897 | 307-766-4240
Wyoming Public Media is a service of the University of Wyoming
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Wind River documentary humanizing MMIP epidemic receives national and international attention at film festivals

Zoe Friday
Caldera Productions
Jingle dress dancer Taylee Dresser dances at sunrise in Sinks Canyon outside of the Wind River Reservation. The jingle dress is featured throughout the animated film "Who She Is," which aims to raise awareness about the people behind the statistics of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples crisis.

The Wind River-based documentary “Who She Is” won Best Animated Film and was a finalist for Most Inspirational Film at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival this June.

The documentary brings faces and voices to four Indigenous women caught in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) epidemic – Abbi Washakie (Eastern Shoshone), Sheila Hughes (Northern Arapaho), Jocelyn Watt (Northern Arapaho) and Lela C’Hair (Northern Arapaho).

The film aims to humanize the people behind the statistics. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Native American women are murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice found that more than four in five Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime.

Co-producer Jordan Dresser, an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho tribe, said the “Who She Is” team intentionally chose to make an animated documentary to help bring each woman alive.

“It’s important to know the people who are victims of [the crisis] and what's happening to them, the actual people who get murdered, you know, and the actual people who survive it. I think it's very important that we always allow them to have a space to tell their stories in good ways,” Dresser said.

The film was co-produced by Dresser and Sophie Barksdale through Caldera Productions. Ojibwe artist Jonathan Thunder served as art director and Casper-based artist Tony Elmore was the project’s assistant animator.

The film has been included in festivals throughout the country and beyond, including the Wyoming International Film Festival, the ACT Human Rights Film Festival, the Cine Las Americas Festival, the Latino and Native American Film Festival, the Native Spirit Festival, and the Asinabka Festival in Ontario, Canada.

Dresser said “Who She Is” created a powerful opportunity within the MMIP movement to share each woman as a full person, rather than just a date when someone went missing or was murdered.

“Those don’t provide the full context of ‘This is who this woman is, this is her life, and this is why she is important.’ And it's because somebody loved her, and she herself loved people, and she had hopes and dreams,” Dresser said.

The film’s team worked with the families of Washakie, Hughes, and Watt to tell their stories, and worked with C’Hair directly. C’Hair is the only woman featured in the documentary who is still living today.

Dresser said that the MMIP crisis is “a complex issue” with many different contributing factors – human trafficking, drug use, drug sales, domestic violence, and mental health.

Ultimately, one of the main lessons Dresser said he hopes people take away with them after seeing the film is simply to “learn how to be kinder to each other.”

“They always say that, it's never a good thing to treat a domestic violence victim like – ‘Why don’t you just leave?’ Sometimes when you get frustrated when they don't, the mistake we make is we cut them off. But really, those are the people who really need that lifeline, because they're sinking and they don't even know it,” Dresser said.

The filmmaker also stressed the importance of self care, therapy, and staying connected to Native culture.

“I just really strongly believe that we all have to take care of ourselves, because how can we take care of each other when we're not right ourselves?” Dresser said.

As a tribal member who is both Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, Dresser said he’s protective of the stories of his people and communities.

“Right now, we see this wave of true crime podcasts and different things like that, you know, which I think we need to be very leery of because they're these groups that come in and they tell these stories, and a lot of times, questionable ethics come into play,” Dresser said.

Dresser made his directorial debut with “Who She Is” and served as the Chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council for two years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Wyoming, and has worked as a reporter for The Lincoln Journal Star, The Salt Lake Tribune, The Forum and The Denver Post.

While the filmmaker wants the film to keep spreading awareness, he said communities also need to also plan and take action. One action at the top of his list is for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes to create tribal community response plans.

“Basically those are plans saying ‘This is what happens when a person goes missing and this is what we do’, so I really hope that the tribes will start kind of looking at those different things and try to alleviate this as much as we can,” Dresser said.

“Who She Is” was made possible by funding from the Wyoming Division of Victim Services on behalf of the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force. The task force recently released its second state-wide report investigating the MMIP epidemic in Wyoming.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
Related Content