Resentment: Is It Justified... A Review of Smoke Signals

January 21, 2010
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When most people think of the Native American culture, they visualize casinos, feathers, bow hunting and powwows. As true as these all may seem, there are some underlying characteristics of Indian life not always depicted in the eyes of an outsider. To watch Smoke Signals is to view the Native American world in a different perspective. Native American’s have endured a great deal of struggles in their past, and it’s obvious, through their lifestyles, how the Natives have dealt with the matters in a negative way.
One characteristic not usually associated with the Native American culture is the boring lifestyles these people lead. The reservations are quiet and create the appearance of a deserted “ghost town.” Throughout Smoke Signals, the viewer can’t help but notice the radio station and traffic reporter. The traffic reporter proclaims the reservation to be “active” because one car was on the road. Although the director may have meant this to be a humorous gag to capture the viewer’s attention, the humor presents a valid description of how lackluster the reservation life is.
Like the perception of an active reservation life, another thing most people don’t envision when they picture an Indian is the amount of poverty they endure. The Coer d’Alene reservation is especially poor. When watching the movie, the viewer picks up on the poverty associated with Native American life. For instance, when Victor addresses the council and asks for money to bring his father’s remains back, they cannot give him more than 100 dollars. In addition, the viewer can interpret the natives as poor by the amount of fry bread they consume. Bread has always been considered a food of the poor, even in cultures outside of the Native Americans. Another example is the hilarious scenes involving the two girls on the reservation. The ladies give Victor and Thomas a ride to the bus station, but in an unorthodox way. Instead of driving forward, they drive in reverse. To understand the reasoning behind this, the viewer must understand why the ladies are driving in reverse. When a car had problems with the transmission, most people would take the car to the shop. But instead of spending the money, less fortunate people learned of driving in reverse to prolong a car’s “life.”
Speaking of life, there is a serious underlying aspect of Native American life existent in the movie, alcoholism. Native American’s have the highest rate of alcoholics. The prime example of this pandemic issue is Victor’s father, Arnold. In the movie, the viewer sees Arnold as an alcoholic who abuses his family. Toward the end the viewer finds out that Arnold started the fire that killed Thomas’ parents. The real life issue, by belief, strands from a long history of resentment these people have towards Caucasians. The “white people” took away the Native’s land and put them on reservations. The problem with alcohol may branch off of a much deeper issue, bitterness.
The bitter feelings reflecting alcoholism are solely directed towards Caucasians. Most Native Americans harbor ill feelings towards whites. In the movie, Victor’s mother asks Victor to promise he will return. Victor, in a humorous manner, tells his mother that he will sign a treaty for her. She responds,” You know how we Indians are about treaties.” Although this statement is amusing, it has a deeper connection to the Native American culture. Indians have signed so many treaties in their long past, such as the Dawes Act, which have lessened their rights. Another prime example of Native American resentment is found in the movie. While Victor and Thomas are on their cross-country trip, two white men take their seats. After trying to scare them off, Victor repents and finds a different seat. After which he mumbles, “See Thomas, this is why you cannot be soft. People will just walk all over you.” This shows how Victor feels about the white men on the bus and as a whole.
The Native American perception is not fully understood. As made evident in the movie Smoke Signals, there are a lot of underlying issues not well known by the general population. To watch the movie is to understand the feelings and lifestyles that the Native American people endure on a daily basis. Resentment is no new thing to any culture, but Indians make a strong case of these feelings. The actions of the white people have done nothing but cause pain and agony to a usually tranquil people.

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