Essay Smoke Signals: the Importance of Oral Tradition in Native Culture

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Smoke Signals: The Importance of Oral Tradition in Native Culture

Smoke signals are one of the oldest forms of long-distance communication. The Native American tribes of North America have long used smoke signals to signal danger, transmit news, and gather people to a common area. In this way, it is unsurprising to find that in the movie Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre with a screenplay by Sherman Alexie, communication is a central theme. Through the use of two very contrasting characters, emphasis is put on two different types of communication and their impact on the culture they originate from. Thomas, with his fondness for intimate storytelling, strongly represents the Native culture of the Oral Tradition, whereas Victor,
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The Jesuits were very good, and Arnold and Victor were very well matched. As the game came to an end, the two sides were extremely close. In the final seconds, Arnold recalls how Victor, although quite small at the time, flew through the air and scored the winning shot. After Suzy’s story, however, Victor snorts and says it’s all lies. He says he never scored that shot. In reality, he missed the shot, and lost the game.

In this scene, Smoke Signals literally comes down to a game of Oral tradition vs. Written tradition. The missionaries represent the bible, or the written tradition; the bible being the strongest example of a written tradition there is. As Arnold told the story, his son rose up against them, a strong match, and won the game with the last shot. The Oral tradition won.

All Victor can hear is what’s not factually true in the story. All he can think about are the lies. But that’s not the point of a story. A story isn’t told to pass on truth, it’s told to pass on something greater than truth. It’s told to remember the big picture. And the big picture here is Arnold’s incredible pride in his son. Maybe Victor is looking too close.

The Western idea of Written Tradition is very rigid. The idea is that things cannot change. What was said one way before must be said the exact same way the next time. This prohibits things from