Analyzing “Smoke Signals in Context” by Ward Churchill
The expository essay “Smoke Signals in Context,” written by Ward Churchill, presents a list of issues that could be discussed and debated for days on end. Being the first of its kind, the movie was directed, filmed, and produced entirely by Native Americans, which had never been done before. Aside from being a professor of Ethic Studies at the University of Colorado, Churchill is also known for his Native American activism (being Creek and Cherokee Metis himself) and for coordinating the American Indian Movement for Colorado.
He starts his essay off by giving a brief history of a Winnebago Indian by the name of James Young Deer. Basically this Native American man had a promising future in the film industry before leaving to make documentaries in France during World War I. When he came back from these endeavors he had been put on “Hollywood’s ‘Poverty Row’” as Churchill puts it. The next paragraph is a copy-cat of his first. This time Chickasaw, Edwin Carewe’s career, another promising director, suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse and according to Churchill he was never asked to work with cinema again. Churchill refers to the movies these men made within these two paragraphs.
The following two paragraphs, which contain quotations and references to movies and plays, describe the lack of Native Americans in films as significant directors and actors. There was even a lack of Native Americans in the “background.” By now the reader is starting to get a grasp at the main issue, but it hasn’t been fully developed yet.
Because Indians had been left out for so long and their roles had been, what Churchill might cling to as, grossly exaggerated and misrepresented, when Native American actors did get casted in films it wasn’t enough for them to bring their characters to life by simply looking the way they naturally did. “When Cherokee actor Victor Daniels (‘Chief Thunder Cloud’) was hired for the non-speaking...