He leaves behind his son Victor Joseph (Adam Beach).
He knew he had to stay around his family long enough for Victor to grow up, so he turned to alcohol to help him cope with his guilt.
When Victor was old enough, Arnold left and went to Arizona where he stopped drinking.
Blaxploitation broke the ice and liberated unrehearsed black voices, and now here are two young Indians who speak freshly, humorously and for themselves.
The film opens in Idaho on a significant day: the Fourth of July, 1976.
His feelings are taken out on another child that lives on the Indian reservation.
When the child can forgive his father, he then can become a better person and treat others around him with dignity and respect.
That would be a big concession for Victor, who is tall and silent and has never much liked the skinny, talkative Thomas. And as the movie settles into the rhythms of a road picture, the two characters talk, and the dialogue becomes the heart of the movie."Smoke Signals'' was written by Sherman Alexie, based on his book "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.'' He has a good ear for speech, and he allows his characters to refer to the real world, to TV and pop culture and the movies. If they are the future, Arnold, the Gary Farmer character, is the past.
(The reserved Victor, impatient with Thomas's chatter, accuses him of having learned most of what he knows about Indians by watching "Dances with Wolves,'' and advises him to spend more time "looking stoic.'') There are references to Gen. Victor nurses a resentment against him, but Joseph is understandably more open-minded, since the man did, after all, save his life.
'' the reservation radio deejay tells his American Indian listeners as "Smoke Signals'' opens.
We cut to the station's traffic reporter, who scrutinizes an intersection that rarely seems to be used. Later in the film, we will hear several choruses of a song about John Wayne's false teeth."Smoke Signals'' comes billed as the first feature written, directed, co-produced and acted by American Indians.