The Education of Little Tree (1997)

A little boy loses his parents during the depression, and his grandparents take him to live with them in their mountain cabin. The premise is simple, but the lessons are many. I liked this movie because it taught respect for native Indians.

Let’s face it, the “red skins”, as they used to be called, owned this land. It was theirs long before it was ours. The early American settlers drove them out of their homes and used every possible means to push them aside, to disown them of their inheritance.

That was shameful. And what added insult to injury was the way they tried to “integrate” them into society after they’d been pushed aside for so long. This film tells the story of one such boy. Half-Cherokee, he is forced into an “Indian” school, where he is treated like an animal. The idea is to erase all sense of individuality and family out of him, and to get him to become an “American”.

You might think the subject matter is outdated, but only recently, the Canadian government has had to issue an official apology to Canadian Indians for their treatment of their children.

Quoting from the article: “Between 1870 and 1996, an estimated 150,000 indigenous children were wrenched from their homes and sent to Christian boarding schools, where many were sexually and physically abused.”

The movie offers a solution that I only wish more Indian children had taken. The little child runs away from the school (aided by his grandfather) and spends his teen years hiding from government officials who want to put him back in what they call “schools”. He gets a real education from his uncle, an experienced Cherokee who acts as his surrogate father and prepares him for a solitary, sometimes troubled, but free life in the mountains.

I get raised hackles every time I hear the word “freedom” trumpeted about, yet find clear proof of forced behavior or oppression. For all its talk of freedom, the US has always managed to oppress certain of its population, throughout time. First it was the native Indians, then it was the slaves, then its Japanese and German citizens during WWII, then the presumed Commies during the vile McCarthy trials, then various other groups during the 20th century. Now, this oppression has culminated into the mass reduction of our liberties through the so-called Patriot Act, a filthy lie of a misnomer if I ever heard of one.

The real patriots always stand up for the rights of all, and they always question the system in order to keep it in check. Sometimes, the best statement a free person can make is to stay free, even if it means thumbing your nose at idiotic rules and policies and living in the mountains, outside of society. Because eventually, the government comes around to realize its idiocy, and issues an apology. By the way, the American government is long overdue on just one such apology.

If you want to find out more about the movie or buy/rent it, you can find it at Amazon, Netflix and IMDB.