Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 505
As in many of his other works, Highwater addresses the theme of cultural conflict and the problems that result. Through the eyes of Amana, Highwater shows the basic differences concerning nature and the land that existed between the white man and the Native American. The sensitivity of the Native American to the environment contrasts sharply with the senseless destruction of the white man. When the two cultures meet, only one can remain dominant. And, although Highwater rails against the white man's attempt to apply inappropriate European standards to judge the native American life, there is no question which culture will survive.
Following the cycle of the year, Amana and her people had moved across the Great Plains, tying their lives to the wanderings of the buffalo. As white men killed the buffalo for pleasure or for leather, and confined Amana and her people to reservations, the traditional way of life had to change. Amana sees her people abandoning their traditional values and beliefs. Losing her own extended family, she too turns away from her people when she leaves Amelia to go with the French Canadian trapper, Jean Pierre Bonneville. After Bonneville abandons her and their unborn child, Amana is barely able to survive. Faced with starvation, she again becomes part of an extended family or tribe. This time, however, the traditional tribe is replaced by a group of "girls" in a brothel.
Highwater also presents a theme of rejection as part of the demise of the traditional Native American culture. In the new world created by the white man, the old traditions are no longer important to most people. Although they remain strong in people like Amana, the songs, dances, and festivals are not relevant to people like her daughter Jemina. Jemina's life becomes a cycle of high hopes followed by despair. Chasing a dream of a better life, she rejects anything Native American, even her mother. She finds, however, that again and again her dreams crash and, each time, she returns to Amana.
Amana herself is caught between the old and the new Native American ways of life. She finds that the power of her medicine bundle is gone. "The voices of the storytellers became silent. Their tales of destiny fell like leaves in an endless autumn. The powerful animals withdrew into the distant land where white men had not found their way, taking with them the wisdom they had once shared with Indians." Amana seems lost. As she says, "I am not an Indian anymore . . . and I have not learned how to be anyone else. I have not learned how to fight and yet I have not learned how to give up." Her inability to pass on the traditions of her people to Jemina also frustrates her. "Inside me was a river of history that flowed like a torrent from my grandmothers and their grandmothers before them. Now the river does not flow . . . And you, Jemina, you are a land without memory . . . you do not know who it is you wish to be."
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