In 1990, Congress declared November as American Indian Heritage Month, and they also passed the Native American Languages Act, followed by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. At the same time, movie Dances With Wolves was timely and it reminded American people that Indians occupied the country long before Christopher Columbus set foot on it. During the whole 1990s, American Indian became hot property in Hollywood. Studios scrambled to duplicate the success of Dances With Wolves and created a cycle of sympathetic Indian-themed movies. As a result, people began to put focus on Native American and their culture, history, traditions and language. Meanwhile, Native American, being out of the stage of the U.S. culture for many years, started to think about whom they are and what a real Indian identity is. Smoke Signals was written, directed and produced by a Native American Chris Eyre, and it was featured as a milestone of breaking the Hollywood stereotypies and bringing real Native American to the screen. The story takes place in the present not hundreds years ago on Coeur d’Alene reservation. The present is presented as a time of a typical daily life and story starts with a traffic report from KREZ radio, “Big truck just went by... now it's gone,” on a rainy bicentennial Fourth of July. Just on such a special day, Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer), did “a good thing” and saved the infant Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) in a fire that killed Thomas’s parents. While in his son Victor Joseph’s (Adam Beach) memory, Arnold was an alcoholic and irresponsible father and husband who abused him and his mom and abandoned them when he was only 12 year olds. In the news of Joseph’s dead, Victor and Thomas first time leave the reservation and go on a journey to Phoenix, Arizona to take care of Joseph’s remainders. In this journey, these two young men learn from their past, debate the images Hollywood portrayed, and eventually discover what a real Indian identity is. In the skillful hands of director Chris Eyre, Smoke Signals presents a real Indian identity that the contemporary Native Americans try to stay away from the white culture, and at the same time, they are immensely influenced by the western main culture. The film establishes a brand new and realistic identity of the Native Americans who are positive to make progress as the development of the U.S. civilization. They inherit the kindness and peace from their Indian ancestors toward other people, and they live with wisdom and optimistic attitude toward their lives. Although the Native Americans in the film try to stay away from the White, they are immensely influenced by the white-man culture within the U.S. The movie starts on July 4th when the Native Americans celebrated the holiday on the reservation. They celebrate the birthday of the nation in the similar way as all other American around the nation. They dance, sing, drink and burn firework, as if they have already forgot the independency of the U.S. results in their tragedy in 500 years ago. It seems they have no reason to love this country. However, as the time passes, they are assimilated to become a U.S citizen. They eat fast food, play basketball, wear T-shirt and jean, speak fluently English, and moreover they watch Hollywood movies that play an important part in changing the contemporary Native American culture. The young generation has realized such changes; meanwhile, they are involuntary to the change. Victor is mad at Thomas because Thomas always mentions the story in Dances with Wolves, a famous Hollywood Indian movie. Victor questions Thomas, “don't you even know how to be a real Indian? How many times have you seen Dances with Wolves anyways? 100... 200 times? Oh Jesus, Thomas, you have seen it that many times?” Victor thinks that Thomas should have thought the image of Indian American in the movie reflects a real Indian identity, and that Thomas models the hero in the...
Cited: Chris Eyre. “Smoke Signals”. Sherman Alexie. 1998. U.S.A.
Aleiss, A. Making the White Man’s Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies. 2005.
Indian.org. “Native American Culture”. http://indians.org/articles/native-american-culture.html. Apr.20th 2014.
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