Isaac Littlefeathers (1984)




Director:  Les Rose.

Starring:  Michelle Thrush (Sally Littlefeathers), Scott Hylands (Jesse Armstrong), Lynda Mason Green (Karen), Lou Jacobi (Abe Kapp), Tommy Fletcher (Isaac Age 4), Vincent Gale (Zennon Varco), Geoff Brumlik (Hymie), Steve Blackman (Izzy), William Korbut (Issac Littlefeathers), Robert Astle (Hersch), Tom Heaton (Mike Varco), Glenn Davidson (George Varco), Larry Musser (Boxe and baseball referee), Brent Allan (Irving), Bryan Fustukian (Rabbi Max Kapp), Lorraine Behnan (Golda).

The story is set in 1960s Alberta.  This comedy/drama made for CBC TV deals with a young Indian boy's encounters with his family, the law and racism.


The year is 1947, Alberta, Canada.  Jesse Armstrong, professional hockey player, has a relationship with a young Indian girl.  When she gets pregnant by him and has a baby boy, he leaves her.  (His only contact with the boy is a couple of $20 dollar bills now and then.)  He justifies his behavior by saying that he did the girl a favor, for he is a no-good philanderer. 

The Indian girl goes off with a rich man, leaving her boy, 4 or 5 years of age, Isaac Littlefeathers, with an older Jewish grocer, Abe.  Abe lost a son and he willingly raises the boy.  

Nine years later and the year is 1962.  The boy is now 13 or 14.  Isaac is playing baseball.  His biological father, who thinks that Isaac does not know his true identity, watches his boy play ball and talks to him for a short time. 

Isaac is not a happy camper.  He resents his mother leaving him and that his biological father is a real jerk.  He likes Abe, but it is hard being a biracial child with one of the parents being Indian and being raised among Jewish people.  Isaac is the target of prejudice from a couple of different directions: taunts and racial slurs for being an Indian and being raised in a Jewish household.  When he is not being insulted, he has to hear ethnic slurs thrown at his Jewish friends and family.  What's worse perhaps is that the Jewish kids and parents don't really accept Isaac either.

The Jewish school kids give Isaac money to be their bodyguard, since he is full of rage and good with his fists.  The real trouble is with the Varco kids and their father, a real racist and bigot.  There are many run-ins between Isaac and his Jewish friends and the Varco boys.  Isaac is so angered at this that he eventually burns down the Varco garage (being used by father Varco as his taxidermist studio). 

The police say that if Isaac gets into any more trouble, he is going to go to reform school or some such equivalent place.  This gives the Varco boys a real shot at Isaac.  They start to beat him up, knowing that he cannot defend himself.  Isaac is saved by Abe's son-in-law who then suggests a fair fight in the boxing ring between Isaac and any Varco.  The bad boys pull a fast-one on Isaac and force him to fight their cousin, who is not quite twice as big as Isaac. 

But will this stop the violence between Isaac and the Varcos?  Probably not.  And the film builds to a dramatic climax.

This could have been an American film.  The racism and bigotry are familiar and the ignorant response also.  Just like in American films, those who are being bullied and harassed never go for help to the authorities.  They never seek help from the police or the teachers and principals.  Instead, they have to s"take the law into their own hands" and deal with the bad guys themselves.  If there is a bully, you have to go into training and beat him up once you are in shape and trained. Or you have to resort to other means, all illegal, to get your justice.  The early days after World War II were the dark ages not only for sex and reproduction, but for dealing with bullies.  At least nowadays there are many ways other than violence to stop bullying and racial/religious/sexual taunting without resorting to violence.  These days fighting leads to lawsuits at the least. 

But the movie is a good one that keeps your interest. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.  


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