Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservations in Washington. His background is important in understanding his poem, “Crow Testament.” In this poem, Alexie uses foreshadowing, personification, symbolism, allusions, parallelism, and structure to detail some of the history and effects of Christian missionaries on Native American people.
In the first stanza of this poem, Cain uses “Crow, that heavy black bird” to “[strike] down Abel.” This section is alluding to the murder of Abel, by his brother Cain, in the Book of Genesis. In the Bible, Cain uses a stone to murder Abel. This biblical allusion demonstrates the history of Christian missionaries abusing Native American people.
After this, the Crow says, “Damn… I guess this is just the beginning.” The personified Crow, which is a metaphor for the Native American people, recognizes that this act of violence, which is the first murder in the Bible, is also foreshadowing a long line of violence against the Native American people, who will also use this teaching to harm themselves.
The third stanza of the poem states, “The Crow God as depicted in all of the reliable Crow bibles looks exactly like a Crow.” In this stanza, Alexie continues utilizing Christian imagery and the personification and symbolism of the Crow. The Native Americans are demonstrating the same patterns as the white missionaries who have tried to assimilate them and erase Native American religion and culture.
The Crow says, “this makes it so much easier to worship myself.” Instead of following the religious tradition of their ancestors, the Native Americans are following the patterns set for them by the white missionaries. They have reworked their traditions to fit a specific view that makes it easier for them to be self-centered, instead of selfless. This shift in focus from the community to the individual is a lasting effect of Christianity.
In the last stanza of the poem, “Crow rides a pale horse into a crowded powwow but none of the Indian panic.” This statement likens Crow to Death in the Book of Revelations as he “rides a pale horse”. However, none of the Native Americans are surprised to see themselves as Death. Instead, the Crow says, “Damn… I guess they already live near the end of the world.” Crow realizes that the Native American people have been pushed so far from their original tradition by the Christians who came in to assimilate them. They have undergone so much abuse, that they are not surprised, or scared, of Death.
The entire poem uses a parallel structure. The first part of each stanza details what has occurred, and the second section is Crow’s reaction. This sentence is always structured, “Damn, says Crow...” This parallel structure demonstrates the continued injustices that the Native American people face. The poem references the entire Christian Bible, from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation.
The Native Americans who were assimilated and lost their tradition now have their history contained in the book of Christian teachings instead of in their own traditions. Alexie is arguing that the Christian missionaries that came in to the Native American tribes worked to erase the traditions that they found, abusing the Native American people and causing lasting damage that is still working in the society today.