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Native American Poetic Expression

Updated on November 29, 2014

The Native American culture is one based upon poetics and spirituality. Culture, cognitive processes, language and spirituality are all directly related to one another. One of the most common ways Native American tap into their spirituality is thru dreams. In this culture, dreaming is both a sleeping and waking experience and is activated when energy flows inward instead of outward. Inward flowing energy awakens the spiritual and intellectual senses and outward-flowing energy awakens the worldly and perceptual senses. (Tedlock, 2004) Dreams provide information about spiritual phenomena. The use of dreaming and imagination are cognitive processes that differentiate Native Americans from other cultures. The goal of dreaming is to enhance self-knowledge and self-respect. Nightmares are thought to bring sickness and death. This is why Native Americans utilize dream catchers. Dream catchers filter out the negative dreams and attract positive images.

Poetry is a major source of linguistic expression used by Native Americans. Through poetry they are able to express culture and spirituality. If someone from a different culture were to read a Native American poem, this individual may have difficulty understanding it because poetry expresses the beliefs, culture and spirituality of Native Americans. The expressions used by the people are familiar and understood by members of their culture, but would not make sense to individuals of different cultures because they have not experienced the same spiritual and cultural connections and beliefs.


In the article “A consideration of culture in moral theme comprehension: comparing Native and European American students”, a study was performed to “examine the extent to which students from a Native American culture understand European-based stories in the same way as European American children. Native and European American students in Grade 4–8 (ages 10–18) read eight short stories depicting eight different virtues and identified the best theme from a list of choices”. The result was that “Differences were found between the two groups' theme comprehension scores. Each group also had different variables predicting their theme comprehension scores”. (Bock, 2006) A likely cause for this is that cultural and linguistic barriers influenced comprehension and interpretation.

Most scholars and researchers believe that native culture and language is critical to the success of Native American students. Studies have shown that academic success and motivation is dependant on the sense of identity, cognitive development and spiritual well-being of students. Language to these students has shown to be more than dialect. It represents their past, present and future.


Have you read Native American poetry?

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The Poetics and Spirituality of Dreaming: A Native American Enactive Theory. Tedlock, Barbara. Dreaming. Vol. 14 (2-3). June-September 2004. pp. 183-189.

A consideration of culture in moral theme comprehension: comparing Native and European American students. Bock, Tonia. Journal of Moral Education. March 2006. Vol. 35 Issue 1. pp. 71-87.


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    • newbizmau profile image

      Maurice Glaude 3 years ago from Mobile, AL

      I've never read Native poetry. I also never heard the definition of dream catchers explained so clearly. "Dream catchers filter out the negative dreams and attract positive images." I get it now.