Back in May, The Community Library hosted a screening of the documentary “In Good Faith,” which chronicles the history of an unratified treaty between the U.S. government and a mixed band of Shoshone, Bannock and Sheepeater Indians.
Under the leadership of Chief Tendoy, the Mixed-Band negotiated a treaty “in good faith” to cede more than 30,000 square miles of southwest Montana to the United States and permanently relocate to a reservation in central Idaho.
To make a very long story overly short, the federal government assumed ownership of the land but never honored its side of the bargain, eventually forcing the Mixed-Band off of the land promised to them and onto what is now the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
The tale is steeped in broken promises, fractured narratives, double standards and ambiguous jurisprudence, and although it occurred more than 150 years ago, its effects continue to reverberate throughout Idaho and Montana today.
The reconciliation of past grievances through contemporary politics is at the forefront of Ketchum’s collective consciousness, as the city readies for its biggest event of the year: Wagon Days.
Last year’s Wagon Days festival marked the first time in the event’s long history that the city formally extended an invitation to the Shoshone-Bannock people to take part in the weekend’s proceedings. That invitation was extended once again this year, but the Mixed-Band’s presence will be expanded further, both with the festival and by independent, unaffiliated organizations.
In particular, The Community Library is doing its share, inviting back the filmmakers of “In Good Faith” to install an associated exhibition of art and artifacts at the library’s Regional History Museum in Ketchum’s Forest Service Park.
“We are grateful to be able to share the decades of collaborative work between the Shoshone-Bannock tribe and the students and faculty of WSU,” said Mary Tyson, the library’s director of regional history. “This telling of the Virginia City Treaty and the case for reparations is a powerful story for all ages.”
The film and the exhibition alike were created by Orlan Svingen, a professor of history at Washington State University who came upon the story of the Virginia City Treaty while doing fieldwork with students in Montana.
Speaking with locals of Virginia City, Mont., and members of the Fort Hall Reservation, Svingen and his associates wove together a comprehensive history of events.
The museum exhibition elaborates upon the narrative of the documentary with a wide array of artifacts.
“The film is 10 or 15 years of my research boiled down into 57 minutes,” Svingen said. “It’s fairly complicated and fairly detailed, especially for someone who doesn’t know the background and Indian policy. A person can really learn a lot from the exhibit.”
The film will play on a loop on a television in the museum for the duration of the exhibition, but accompanying items help paint a more complete picture of the history. The marriage of traditional artifacts and facsimiles of historical documents with contemporary items demonstrate not only how events of the 19th century occurred, but also how the descendants of those involved have been impacted by the past.
“We don’t want to just get stuck in the 19th century,” Svingen said. “Contemporary items draw the story into the present day, relate it to the descendants of those people and encourage viewers to consider how the past continues to influence modern life.”
Svingen related how he has witnessed a shifting focus in Virginia City since he and his students first began excavating this episode of history.
“I watched this mining-centric community began to expand its area of interest into other territories,” he said. “For a long time it was a narrative of vigilantism and miners, but they have really broadened their historical and cultural perspectives.”
The greater historical context has, if anything, enriched the cultural identity of Virginia City. Svingen said they have done so without shortchanging that proud mining and vigilante tradition. As he put it, “You can have a quilt with a single pattern, or a quilt with mosaics by lots of different people. I’ll bet you the one with lots of stories and designs is more interesting to look at.”
Hopefully, the work of the “In Good Faith” project will have a similar effect on the Wood River Valley. Together with the events of Wagon Days, the exhibition at the museum will help promote a broader understanding of regional history.
The museum will host an opening reception for the exhibition on Friday, Aug. 30, from 4-5:30 p.m., alongside both Gallery Walk and the opening day of the Wagon Days festival. Svingen will be joined by fellow filmmaker Jared Chastain and several important figures from the film, including Leo Arriwite, Tribal Court judge of Fort Hall.
For more information on the museum and its collections, visit comlib.org/museum.