Smoke Signals

2 February 2017

Smoke Signals ( Smoke Signals, DVD. 1998) is a movie that depicts Native Americans on the Coeur’d Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho during the late 20th century. Smoke Signals illustrates contemporary Native American culture. The movie is gives insight into the characters struggles to preserve oral tradition, and making peace with personal histories. The main characters, Thomas and Victor, deal with discrimination, life on a reservation, preservation of their culture, and economic problems. There are aspects of anthropology concepts that are depicted animism, rite of passage cultural imperialism, and stereotyping.

In this movie Victor, the main character, sees himself as a “real” Indian. Victor conveys resentment and anger towards his father Arnold Joseph, who was an alcoholic and abusive towards his family. Arnold Joseph always threatened to disappear in the movie and eventually he ran away to Phoenix Arizona. Thomas, the other main character in the story, remembers Arnold Joseph as a friendly man who saved his life from the fire.

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Later you learn Arnold Joseph leaves the reservation because he is racked with guilt from accidently setting the fire that killed Thomas parents. Thomas’s character is a traditionalist in practicing his oral tradition.Thomas is far less stern than his counterpart Victor is.

Smoke Signals is about the journey Thomas and Victor have while collecting the ashes of Arnold Joseph. Thomas sees this journey as his vision quest. The vision quest came to him in the form of Spokane Falls, and while there, Arnold appeared to him, as if in a dream. This faith is called animism, the belief in spiritual entities, souls, and spirits. ( Connard Phillip Kottak, Mirror for Humanity: a Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 191. ) These trance states are part of Native American culture.These vision quests are a rite of passage for Native Americans.

( IBID. , 195. ) Rites of passage are events that transform one from one stage of life to another. ( IBID. ) Victor in the beginning of the movie discounts the stories and visions, while insulting Thomas clothing saying he looks like a white man. This is because he believes no good comes from stories or visions and rejects his heritage. Upon arriving in Phoenix Victor learns respect for his father through stories told by Suzie, Arnold neighbor.

Victor also experiences a vision of his own in the form of his father. He learns to respect the traditions of his heritage.Arnold, Victor’s father, tells a story about how he and his son once played against the Jesuits. Arnold describes the Jesuits as skilled and talented basketball players. He says Victor turned into an Angel to score the winning basket. By telling this story, Arnold Joseph refers to cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism is to spread or advance one cultures by modifying, replacing, or destroying the existing culture at the expense of others.

(IBID. , 290-91. )This can be caused by discrepancy in economical and political influences. ( IBID. ) The Jesuits, the white man, came and destroyed Native American culture forcing it to be modified.The winning of the game symbolizes the ability to overcome one’s oppressor. When traveling from Phoenix Arizona to the Coeur’d Alene Indian Reservation, the main characters are involved in a car accident.

Victor runs forty miles to the next town to get help for the dying woman in the car accident. The drunken man, who caused the wreck, says Victor and Thomas are at fault for the causing the accident. He tells the police that they were trying to kill him. When interviewing with a police officer, prejudice, stereotype, and discrimination are a strong factor in the beginning.The police officer is stereotyping the boys, by assuming that all Indians are alcoholics. Stereotypes are preconceived notions about members of group are alike. ( IBID.

,251. ) Stereotypes are usually negative views on the particular group. ( IBID. ) Stereotyping groups individual behaviors together to form a prejudice of how that group “should act”. ( IBID. ) After Victor firmly tells the officer that he does not drink, the mood towards the boy’s changes favorably. This movie is about the physical and psychological journey that Thomas and Victor go through.

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