Who was Peter Blue Cloud, and what did he contribute to literature?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The moniker Peter Blue Cloud is identified with Aroniawenrate, a highly respected Native American poet of Mohawk and English/Welsh heritage. Born in 1933 in the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation on the Caughnawaga Reserve in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, Blue Cloud was raised speaking Mohawk and only later learned French and English. While his early experiences living with the tribe and a grandfather, who taught him the art of storytelling contributed to future writings such as White Corn Sister, a play for voices featuring tribal archetypes such as the medicine man and the clan mother, collections of Elderberry Flute Song: Contemporary Coyote Tales and The Other Side of Nowhere: Contemporary Coyote Tales [coyote stories are trickster narratives], Blue Cloud, having had no literary connections, received hundreds of rejection slips. But, he achieved renown with his prominent place in the Indians of all Tribes initiative to reclaim Alcatraz, a cause to assert Native American independence from European colonization.

Blue Cloud, a former sculptor and carpenter, assumed literary leadership of this cause with his editorship of the anthology Alcatraz Is Not an Island (1972), a work in which the island is recognized as a symbol of the reassertion of the independence of Native Americans. It also pays homage to the Pomo and the Pit River tribes, who worked for the immediate area. His poem, "Pyramid Lake 1970," written as a tribute to an area held sacred to the Paiute threatened by agricultural dams on the Truckee River, demonstrates Blue Cloud's love and devotion to nature in a reverent prayer-song. Then, in 1976, Blue Cloud published his first collected poetry in Turtle, Bear and Wolf (1976).

The poetry of Blue Cloud demonstrates traditional as well as original elements; because of this, his work often defies classification. But, certainly, his love of nature permeates all his works. Further, his poetry rages at the industrialization of pristine areas. In "Reflections on the St. Lawrence Seaway" and"Searching for Eagles," Blue Cloud condemns the carelessness and greed of shipbuilders and industrialists who have polluted the beautiful river of his youth. 

While his English poems exhibit the restrictiveness of a non-native speaker, his poetry in his native language displays more elaborateness. One critic writes of this poet,

The duality of voice in these works communicates the duality of Blue Cloud's vision, looking both to the now and the not-now, the past and the future, backward and forward, here and elsewhere....including equal parts mud and magic.

Blue Cloud's poems, that display the Native American's love of all things of nature are timeless reminders of its beauty and worth, and the need to preserve it.