When we first meet Sage Nichola in “Eagle Boy,” he’s an obviously bright and happy child growing up in Montana – fishing with his dad, floating a river with his stepmom.
But this is a fish-out-of-water story, and 8-year-old Sage is the fish.
His parents are about to embark on a year of study in Norway. They’re moving 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle, to Tromso, a city about the size of Missoula.
Sage, a Salish Indian from the Flathead Reservation, is warned: Everyone in his new school will be speaking Norwegian. He’ll be the only one with dark skin, the only boy with long, braided hair.
He will be different from everyone else.
The first thing Shanley, his stepmom, teaches him to say in Norwegian is “I am a boy.”
“Some kids might be scared but not me,” Sage bravely announces. Shanley tells him that while the kids all speak Norwegian, they start to learn English at age 6. Perhaps by the age of 8 they’ll be able to communicate with Sage.
In this engaging documentary from Gry Elisabeth Mortensen that follows Sage through his year in Norway, the Montana Indian tries, with limited success, to make friends.
He hops on playground equipment with other kids only to see them jump off and head someplace else. They’re all good skiers; Sage is just learning. His attempts to talk to them are met with “Sorry, we don’t speak American.”
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When he goes home, it’s not to one like his house in the forest back in Montana, but to a unit in an city apartment complex.
When International Day comes up at Sage’s elementary school, Sage’s father, Dean, wants Sage to dress in his colorful costume and feathers and dance like he did at the powwows back home, in front of the whole school.
“He wants me to show my Indian culture, but maybe they won’t like it,” Sage says. “I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. Maybe they’ll laugh at me.”
It’s unclear whether Sage had a choice. Dean comes to school on International Day and helps his son get ready while his curious classmates look on.
Then it’s off to a multipurpose room filled with hundreds of students.
“Oh, God,” Sage mutters under his breath as he heads out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Norwegian kids gawk at the oddly dressed 8-year-old as he enters the room.
Then his father cues up the traditional music, and “Eagle Boy” – Sage’s Indian name – reluctantly begins his dance.
“An eagle is like a superhero,” Sage says early on in this 27-minute documentary, and you get the feeling he had to summon superpowers to go through with this dance.
Where it leads, you’ll have to see for yourself.