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Mary Oliver and North American Indians

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QUESTION: Mary Oliver's representation of the culture of the North American Indian is one of celebration and lament. She celebrates a humane ecological consciousness that informs their cultural identity while also lamenting the terrible cultural dispossession that they have suffered at the hands of Western Imperialism.


Mary Oliver's poetry is a critique of many different aspects of society, primarily the way in which nature is often devolved. She also examines the North American Indians lamenting their cultural dispossession and celebrates their seemingly innate which Western society has colonised and subsequently forced its values upon the Native Americans' way of life and the terrible loss of culture that his has resulted in. At the same time she has celebrated their affinity with the natural world, their knowledge, understanding and acceptance of the environment and the animals within it. The poems "Learning About the Indians", "Tecumseh" and "Hunter's Moon- Eating the Bear", all deal with the plight of North American Indians and present to the reader a representation of this culture.

"Hunter's Moon" by Mary Oliver is a poem that deals with the eating of a bear by a North American Indian, and the ritualistic ideas that accompany this act. The connection that the persona feels with the environment, and thus his prey, is shown in the way he recognises "the dense orb that is all of us". This shows the recognition the hunter has for the idea of the 'circle of life', the idea that all parts of this world are interconnected and vital to survival. The Hunter has a great respect for what he has killed, addressing

the bear as "Godd friend" and continually reaffirming that although it is dead, it will continue to live on through him. "Your vast powers, your grace/ the small sinews of my prayers", shows that the Hunter does not think of the bear simply as food and a necessity, but as a gift to be cherished. In this poem, Oliver has developed and constructed an image to the reader of continuity, celebrating the way in which the North American Indians have a deep understanding and respect for the environment surrounding them.

Mary Oliver's poetry also deals with the cultural dispossession of the Native American race, and the poem "Learning About the Indians" is an exploration of this idea. The title of this poem has a sense of irony, in that the learning of the Indian way of life has been simplified. It is ignorant to think that an understanding of a culture can be gained through simply experiencing a traditional dance, and Oliver has criticised the Western belief that acceptance is understanding, showing that we cannot understand something simply through viewing it. She has also portrayed the dispossession of culture through the renaming of "White Eagle" as "Mr White". In an attempt to conform or assimilate him into Western society his name has been formalised and through this

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