I Hear the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven


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The elders of the ancient Kwakiutl tribe in the book, I Heard The Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven, were naturally insecure with the ways of the white man, yet the tribal youth seemed eager to welcome the change in lifestyle. Mark, an Anglican minister, was sent by the Bishop to spread the ideas of the faith among the people of the Kwakiutl tribe in Kingcome. While performing his duties, he worked with the villagers on a day-to-day basis. He brought his way of life to the tribe and taught some of the children what the white man was all about. The elders feared the loss of their heritage having someone of white descent amongst them. There are three distinct situations in which one can observe a switch in conduct between the youth, the elders of the tribe, and their desire to hold on to their past. A change can be noticed in both their mood and behavior toward the white man and his “evil ways”; from the first time Mark arrived at the village, to when the children began schooling, and finally when he passed away.
     Upon first setting foot on the soil of the beach in the small village of Kingcome, Mark came into contact with the people of Kwakiutl. Along with him, he also brought “the way of the white man”, which many were not accustomed to. Talking about an elderly woman sitting on the steps to the vicarage, Mark said, “’I did not see her when we passed the vicarage carrying the organ to the church.’” and Jim replied, “‘She saw you, and was afraid. She hid.’”(P.24) Most of the older villagers were unfriendly and timid toward Mark when he first arrived. Even the children were a little timid at first and did not really know why or what this strange person was doing in their community. “They had entered without knocking…When he asked their names, they did not answer, watching him from their soft, dark, sad eyes, as their ancestors must have watched the first white man in the days of innocence.”(P.39) As the months passed by, the tribal children began to show an interest in this new person living in their village and the elders had a strong negative feeling and concern for this admiration of the white man.
     As summers and winters arrived and passed, the Kwakiutl children had now grown into young adults and had became genuine friends with Mark, not just acquaintances.

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He had taught them so much, including the culture and lifestyle that they had been shielded from and knew nothing of, except that the “greedy white man” lives there. Many of the elders began to strongly fear the loss of their community and some had a slight resentment for Mark arriving and packing visions and thoughts of another way of life into their tribes futures impressionable minds. When Peter, an older tribal member spoke of the youth, he said “’It is always so when the young come back from the school. My people are proud of them, and resent them. They speak English all the time, and forget the words of Kwakwala…They say to their parents, ‘Don’t do it that way. The White man does it this way.’ They do not remember the myths, and the meaning of the totems. They want to choose their own wives and husbands.’”(p.61) Peter feels as though the outside world sucks out the traditions that have been set for hundreds of years, from within the young. One afternoon a U.S. Air Force plane flew overhead, “None of the older Indians had come out, only the young, the children, running excitedly up and down the path, the young people in a group by themselves.”(p.63) The senior tribal members show no interest toward the white man and his innovativeness, but the children are enthralled and fascinated by what they have just seen, and show an interest in the American culture. The elders did not want the white man to become a part of them and their people, but the children couldn’t help but show a concern toward him. Peter states that, “Here in the village my people are at home as the fish in the sea, as the eagle in the sky. When the young leave, the world takes them, and damages them. They no longer listen when the elders speak. They go, and soon the village will go also.”(p.62) The tribe felt that it was not exactly a personal attack on Mark, but more of a generalization of the non-Indian race.
     The tribe aged, the children developed into young adults, and the elderly grew older. The tribal youth still declined the opportunity to carry on the Indian way of life. The young began to branch out, and stray from the village, and the elders still feared for the lost remembrance of their ancestors, and the future of their kin. Mrs. Hudson, one of the chief elders of the tribe spoke to Mark and said, “‘What have you done to us? What has the white man done to our young?’”(p.73) Such direct questions coming from one of the higher ranking elders, shows that himself, along with the white race, are still not accepted, and there is still a distinct boundary between the Indian and White races. The young adults on the other hand, had already formed a bond with the white race, Keetah in particular. She came to Mark with the biggest decision of her life; whether or not to join American society. “’Then I will go now and tell my grandfather I want to remain outside, that I want to go to the university. I want to be the first of my people to enter a profession. When I left here it was like taking a knife and cutting a piece out of myself, but to tell my grandfather I do not wish to come back to stay – this is to take a knife and cut through the flesh and bone of my own people.’”p.123 While it would devastate the ones she loved, Keetah was still willing and ready to leave her past.
     The tribal bond between generations slowly dissolved as time passed by. The root of this breakdown could be blamed on Mark. Mark didn’t forcefully change anyone, nor did he mean to break apart a tribe, but he simply told of his way of life, and what the American way was all about. It was simply human nature for the younger tribal members to welcome change and investigate a world in which they knew nothing of. The youth needed to explore while the elders needed to hang on, “…clinging fiercely to a way that is almost gone….”p.73


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