Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Angry Indians & Wise Medicine Men

One theme that I've noticed in the last couple movies we've watched is that they seem to have some similar characters and ideas. I have noticed that in Smoke Signals and Pow Wow Highway that there are angry Indians and wise, medicine men like characters. In Smoke Signals, we see Victor as the man on a journey, who sometimes loses his temper a little bit. We also see Thomas, who is very calm, cool and collected. He never gets worked up over anything, is always there for a bit of comic relief and he keeps Victor in line. We also see these types of characters in Pow Wow Highway. Here we see Buddy Red Bow as the angry Indian with the bad temper, and we see Philbert as the wise one of the two. He may seem like just the funny one, but he's actually very smart and wise.

I know we learned a bit about the "trickster" figure a while back in class, but I feel that this is a little different. I know we might be able to see Philbert maybe as the trickster figure, but I don't see that as his main role in the film. I see him more as the balance for the Buddy Red Bow and not a lot more.

I also believe that there may be a role for the trickster figure in some Native American Films, but not always. Especially seen here in these two films, there isn't a distinct figure, but more of the Hot and Cold characters that depend on each other for their survival. I find it an interesting commonality between films.

Powwow Highway

While Powwow Highway seemed to be a movie made for Native American viewing purposes, I actually enjoyed it a lot. Philbert was my favorite character. He acts a bit like a trickster character with his jokes and his “Pony” and everything. He was truly an entertaining character and I liked him a lot. In addition, he is the only one who comes up with a plan that is actually good enough to get Bonnie out of jail, so even if he plays dumb sometimes, it must be an act because he can get important thing accomplish if necessary. I also enjoyed how Philbert was trying to embrace the more traditional side of being a Native American; he was going on some kind of spiritual journey and I thought it was interesting to include that when it was supposed to be a more modern movie.
This movie definitely is trying to prove to white people that Native Americans can outsmart them any day. From the scene in the radio store to the jail break out, Philbert and Buddy and the rest of the Native American group are constantly sticking it to the white people. This is clearly a reason why the movie seems to be made for a Native American audience. I don’t think that most white people would really appreciate a movie that made them look so foolish in almost every aspect.


In Powwow Highway there is different ways of looking at different types of Indians.  Right as the film opens, we see Bonnie Red Bow getting arrested for having weed in her car.  This gives viewers right away the idea and stereotypes that Indians can be associated with drugs.  Along with showing this stereotype, we see Philbert Bono to be crazy, and dumb throughout the film.  While trying to find wisdom to become a warrior.  By trying to find this throughout the film it is portraying his to be crazy because of just the idea of finding this, and by the acts he does while doing so.  He also can be looked at as dumb because of the fact that he believes that he will find this wisdom and become a warrior.  While driving to New Mexico in his pony, Philbert goes completely off track to help with his search.  By doing this and going out the of way for what us viewers may think of is nothing, makes his look dumb for believing the stories he has heard and the extent he will go to find it.  There were not just negative stereotypes in the film; there was also the positive one of love for family.  Buddy Red Bow has not spoken to his sister in quite some time, but when he receives the phone call that she has ended up in jail, he is quick to go get her and her children that he was not aware about.  This shows that behind all of the negative things that we usually portray Indians as, there is the positive like the love and challenges he went through to get his sister.


Philbert embraces the Native American tradition in unexpected ways because he is in a way trying to do it old school. In Powwow Highway he is looking for signs, and tokens.  He believes if he gets a certain amount of tokens, that he can become a warrior and achieve a warrior name, for him that would be Whirlwind Dreamer.  He believes his car is his war pony that will help him achieve this quest of becoming a true Native American warrior.  He believes that his car/pony is amazing and will take him anywhere, even though everyone else sees it as a junk car.  Philbert believes that he got a sign and so that is why he bought his car/pony.  In the end, he rescues Bonnie from jail by pulling out the wall of the jail with his car.  They end up getting away and he saved the day. 

Who's the Superior Race?

Powwow Highway was a film that showed several common misconceptions and stereotypes associated with Native Americans.  The Indians are clearly in conflict with Whites throughout the entire film.  To be honest, I have yet to see a film with Native American’s that doesn’t entail some form of representation of the battle between the two races.  Buddy and his friend Hilbert, travel across the country to help Buddy’s sister get out of jail.  Throughout the whole trip, Buddy displayed many acts of aggression toward the White race.  He threw a fit in the radio store and broke the window and many products inside the store. He simply disregarded any acknowledgement of the wrongdoing he had done and felt it was almost fair as a form of payback.  I could see many people of the Indian culture finding this movie empowering because of the constant success of coming out ahead of the Whites.  They were able to get Buddy’s sister out of jail with no charges even though they had done many illegal things.  The film focuses completely on the lives of Native Americans and the struggle with superiority.  It’s not a secret that in all films and texts we have read over the course of the class have all been centered on that exact idea.  Now, in the movie Powwow Highway, the Indians were clearly the heroes for once and the Whites were the bad ones.  From the beginning of the film to the end, it is clear.

Powwow Highway vs. Smoke Signals

Powwow Highway for the most part contained the majority of Native American Indian themes that we have seen in previous films and novels. The film begins with a white man explaining to the tribe how land mining on their reservation would create jobs and ultimately help them live more comfortably. Youngblood, the land-mining promoter, explains his point of view and ends his presentation by stating something along the lines of “…for your people”. This stood out to me because it shows how much western society has exiled Native Indians from today’s modern culture. I believe this is the reason Red Bow interrupted and made the claim that the only reason Youngblood was promoting land-mining was to benefit him, which is valid when discussing western society’s ignorance towards the land.
                Red Bow and Philbert have personality traits that are extremely relatable to those of Thomas and Victor. Thomas did not want to let go of his native culture and found happiness by trying to find himself by storytelling and gathering information from those who are wiser. Philbert is an introspective and lovable person in a process of seeking identity through traditional and mystical means, similar to Thomas’s philosophy. Victor and Red Bow seems to have the idea that the world is against them and find power to be the most important personality trait in order to find their true self. I believe the film Powwow Highway was made for a Native American Indian audience. I feel there are three types of Native Indians that we have discussed, two of which make up the main characters in Powwow Highway. The first type is seen in Philbert’s character, being the one who still has a connection to their native heritage. The second type is seen in Red Bow’s character, being the one who has the “fight the system” kind of thinking and needs power over others to feel comfortable. 

Last Post

For my last paper I’m thinking about writing under the category of Storytelling. I am going to use Ceremony, The True Story of a Part Time Indian and Pocahontas. I’m going to write about how each of the main characters have a story and they each realize they have the power to change or edit the course of their stories to how they want it to be, whether good or bad. But ultimately that seems like the running theme throughout the semester through the books and movies that we looked at.
I feel like Native American writings, movies, songs whatever it is are telling stories of people who want to be heard by someone because they want an opportunity to change their world and maybe the world of others, whoever hears their story.
Yet, isn’t that what we all want? To be heard, for our stories and experiences to be heard so that generations to come don’t make the same mistakes, they learn of our victories, remember the pain, and respect each other?