As an orphaned white boy in a school full of Native students, fourteen-year-old Jonny Joe isn't like any of the others at the island Redemption Residential School off the west coast. When the advances of Father Gregory disturb Jonny, he joins another boy in an escape to a mountain cave. But when they leave the cave, the world as they knew it no longer exists. The boys travel to a native village in a sheltered bay, where Jonny becomes skilled in the art of carving. When a steamship enters the cove, the party of sightseers brings a disease that annihilates most of the people in the village. Meanwhile, Jonny has learned the secret of his past and when he returns to the present, Jonny carves a totem pole to honour the members of the village.