Smoke Signals

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Final Exam: Critical Analysis of the Movie Smoke Signals
Background: This film is based on the book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie, a Coeur d’Alene. The Coeur d'Alene held sway in a territory that is presently included in Idaho and the State of Washington. It extended for some four million acres over the drainage and headwaters of the Spokane River. Food was obtained by hunting, fishing, gathering wild plants and root digging. The Coeur d'Alene used basic techniques to manage their food sources, pruning plants that grew wild, and burning areas to obtain better plant growth or to deprive game of food. For example the Coeur d'Alene burned extensive areas of forest to eliminate the lichen that hangs from trees. These lichen were used as winter forage by deer. The burning forced the deer to descend into the low country where they could be more easily taken in deep snow. After 1700 the Coeur d'Alene began to use horses and their main game sources switched from deer and elk to the buffalo. They developed a wide flat bow, about one meter in length. The bowstring was made with 30 strands of sinew from the leg of a deer, attached with glue made from the skins of salmon. The bow was wrapped with twine made from the bark of the bitter cherry tree. Arrows were made from the wood of the serviceberry tree.
Beginning in 1780 the Coeur d'Alene, along with other Indians of the Plateau, experienced horrendous smallpox epidemics that reduced the Coeur d'Alene population from an estimated 3,000 - 4,000 people in 1780 to just 300 - 500 in 1853. The population stayed in the 400 to 500 person range until the 1900's and began a slow increase until in 1994 the Bureau of Indian Affairs counted 1,216 members of the tribe.
Training for the Coeur d'Alene young stressed proper behavior and self-control. Boys and girls coming of age sought guardian spirits by suppressing their emotions and concentrating on hopes of receiving a vision and a song. They sweated and bathed daily in cold water and they received tattoos of vision designs relating to their guardian spirits.
The name Coeur d'Alene is French for "heart like an awl". It was given to these Indians because of their reputation for sharp bargaining with early fur traders. In 1842 the Coeur d'Alene welcomed Jesuit missionaries. Many became Catholic. They were encouraged to farm and to learn English. By 1900 many Coeur d'Alene had become prosperous farmers and ranchers with large herds of horses and Victorian houses, however, there has been a continuing struggle for land and many Indians have been limited to a reservation of about 70,000 acres.
In the 1960's the Coeur d'Alene language was spoken by 100 people and in 1997 by less than 20. The tribal authorities are now trying to revive the language and it is taught in the tribal grade school. By the 1990's the tribe had developed a large tribal farm, a shopping center, a medical center, tourist accommodations and a gambling casino. It was trying to enlarge its land base by buying land.


You are to specifically address the following (and not necessarily in this order):

  1. Give a brief summary of the movie (less than 150 words). I want YOUR summary, not the one from the back of the video box or from some Internet site.

  2. The director of this movie said that "Any time you put an Indian on the screen it's political--that's kind of the luggage that comes with the whole Indian package." What did he mean by this? Do you agree or disagree. Justify your answer.

  3. At the movie’s end Victor Joseph says, "If we forget our fathers, what is left?" How does this relate to the film?

  4. What is Victor Joseph's attitude toward his father when he begins his journey? What is his attitude on the bridge at the end of the film?

  5. Why, on the bridge at the end of the movie when he threw his father's ashes into the river, was Victor Joseph raging? What was he raging at?

  6. How is KREZ different from radio stations run by non-Indians and what was the screenwriter attempting to tell us by repeatedly referring to it in the film?

  7. Fry bread is a symbol of several things in this film. What are they?

  8. In the film Victor Joseph's mother makes him promise several times that he will come right back from Phoenix. He says: "I promised you I would. You want me to sign a written contract, Mom?" She replies, "Nah, we Indians have a thing about signed documents." To what was she referring?

  9. Victor Joseph's father was abusive to him on occasion. But when his father left home, Victor Joseph didn’t want his father to leave. Can you explain how a young boy, 10 or 12 years old, would not want his father to leave home even if the father was abusive?

  10. In this film, all of the Caucasian men are shown in a negative light. Is this portrayal accurate? What message does this send? What does it mean to you? What effect does it have on your appreciation of the film? What do you think that non-Indians represent to a Native American on the reservation?


Your paper should be of “middling” length, but no more than 7 pages. It must be typed (or machine printed), double spaced, 11 or 12 point type, 1 inch margins all the way around, and have your name and the page numbers on every page. Please SPELL-CHECK!

My preference for receiving your final is as an ATTACHMENT to an EMAIL. Save your final as a WORD.doc; for example, if I were submitting the exam, I would save my document as SMITH.Final.doc. Under NO circumstances are you to save your document in any other format, including .docx or as an Apple Word document.
If you do not know how to use email, you may submit your final exam as a hard copy. However, do not submit your final in any type of a folder. Instead, staple the pages together in the upper left hand corner. Please use a cover sheet for your final that has your name on it, the class name, the date submitted, and the name of the movie you reviewed. Put your exam in my mail slot in the Human Arts and Social Sciences division office (Room 420). Make sure one of the office staff TIME and DATE stamps your exam.

Your final must be delivered to me (in my email In Box or in my mail slot in the HASS division office) NO LATER THAN Thursday, 2 June by 10 a.m. - no late exams will be accepted.
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