I Heard the Owl Call My Name: Native American Perspective on Death

Essay by Bossman5College, UndergraduateB+, September 2009

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I Heard the Owl Call My Name is a 1967 film which opened a new perspective on Native Americans, beyond the cliché images put forth in Country Westerns of that time. This new perspective is seen later in the 1990s in films like Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves. In I Heard the Owl Call My Name, the main character Mark Brian encounters three main animals that act as metaphoric and literal representations of death, the salmon, the eagle, and the owl. Each relate to specific conflicts in the film, while conforming to the theme of death.

The story of the salmon is central to the film’s portrayal of death as it relates to Mark and, his Kwakiutl guide, Jim. Like many Native cultures, myths and stories handed down through oral tradition are important. Mark is compared to the swimmer, or the salmon. The salmon starts its life in the river and goes on a preordained journey to the ocean and back.

The salmon never makes it back alive; however, the Kwakiutl believe that, in producing young to carry on the species, the salmon has fulfilled its destiny. Mark has been sent on a journey by his Minister, who has acted as a father figure and idol. He is sent to a remote Kwakiutl community out in the waters and mountains of British Columbia. Like the salmon, although planning to return to civilization, he will not make it home alive. However, on his journey he will experience a life fulfilling experience, and he will realize that death is not the end of life, but part of a larger life cycle. He learns that people are not judged by who they are, but by what they do. In helping the Kwakiutl community, he has given meaning to his life and is...