Smoke Signals Film Benefits College Fund

Nov 15th, 1998 | By | Category: 10-2: Assessing Student Learning in a Cultural Environment, Tribal College News

Together at the “Smoke Signals” premiere screening in New York are (left to right) co-star Evan Adams, screenwriter Sherman Alexie, co-star Adam Beach, Fund trustee Winona Ryder, co-star Irene Bedard, and director Chris Eyre. Photo by Katherine Fogden

With frequent doses of Native humor, characters in the film “Smoke Signals” overcome challenges of modern Indian reservation life with wit, sadness, and spirituality never seen before on the Hollywood screen. “Smoke Signals”–the first feature film written and directed by Indians-also benefits the American Indian College Fund’s efforts to promote the survival of traditional Native cultures through the modern education provided by tribal colleges. As the end credits roll, the filmmakers encourage viewers to “support the American Indian College Fund.” Film distributor Miramax Films made a $10,000 donation to the Fund.

“Smoke Signals” is an historic achievement for Indian people, who have strong story-telling traditions. The film won the audience award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. The movie’s screenwriter and co-producer, Sherman Alexie, is probably the best known Native person of his generation. The 31-year-old Spokane-Coeur d’Alene tribal member serves on the College Fund’s board of trustees and helps direct its fund-raising and public awareness efforts on behalf of tribal colleges. “If you want to help American Indians,” Alexie frequently says, “support tribal colleges.” In June, College Fund donors were among the guests invited to a premiere screening of Smoke Signals in New York City.

“Tribal colleges are changing Indian reservations in the same positive way that lives change in Smoke Signals,” said Richard Williams, executive director of the College Fund. “In the movie, Indian characters overcome cultural loss, alcoholism, and disconnection with homelands. Our colleges are working every day to help Indian students make better lives for their families and communities.”

In July, Alexie joined President Clinton on a nationally-televised panel discussion about racism in America. “A poor Native American faces more hurdles than a poor anybody,” Alexie told the President. To the nationwide PBS viewers, Alexie said “with the establishment of the American Indian College Fund, tribal people have begun “to recognize the value of education.” Alexie himself has donated money to the College Fund and hundreds of his books to tribal college libraries.

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