‘Keeper N Me’ by Richard Wagamese, is a novel based on the necessary balance between life and the culture in which one belongs to. This is a necessary aspect in order to maintain a steady relationship with one’s self. In this novel passing on traditions or a certain way of life from generation to generation is one of the most important aspects of guiding someone of the Ojibway culture, as the Ojibway people have very strong beliefs and take their culture very seriously. The people of the Ojibway culture believe that through storytelling and dreams one can realize the importance of tradition and its influence on their identity. Wagamese throughout his novel tries to teach the readers the power of one’s community and traditions as he reflects a positive view of Native life. Passing on traditions is a very important aspect of guiding someone of the Ojibway culture in this novel, but to stick to a certain way of life has its challenges as everyone receives different views and opinions from the many different people they encounter throughout their life. The author’s concept in Keeper ‘N Me is much more than just someone who provides guidance but it is how storytelling and the teaching of traditions are used to help guide. Garnet Raven, being isolated from the rest of his family, has struggled with knowing his true identity. Furthermore, the author shows not only the significance of finding a place to belong, but rather the importance of one’s actions and emotions in finding a balance in life but at the same time not letting the presence of dominate views overlook the power of one’s self.
Passing on traditions in the Ojibway culture is a very important aspect of guiding and teaching someone. Due to the Ojibway people having such strong beliefs, they take their culture very seriously. The culture must be maintained for future generations to come as the generations is slowly being bombarded by “white” society. Such behaviour results in the newer generations of Ojibway people to become less interested in learning and living in the traditional Ojibway lifestyle. These younger generations of Indians need to be guided by their elders in order to keep that traditional culture alive, which creates a a string bond with one’s family and ancestors, inspiring them to become guides for next generations as well. Dreams are also a guide in Ojibway culture, “‘one of the things that elders tell you nowadays to try real hard to remember, write them down even to help you.'” (Wagamese 252). It is believe that through dreams one receives visions that are “‘sent to them by the spirit world. That vision could be just about anything and was meant to be a sacred and private thing for the seeker. Gave a direction for their life.'” (252). Dreams are believed to be important messages that provide one with “‘direction and strength'”(252).
The Ojibway honour the traditional way of storytelling as a guide in which it provides a way to pass on words of wisdom and tradition from one generation to the next. Bernice Weissbourd says: “Because it’s not only a child is inseparable from the family in which he lives, but that the lives of families are determined by the community in which they live and the cultural tradition from which they come.” In Keeper’n me, Garnet was taken away from his family and placed in numerous different white foster homes starting from the age of three; “‘ everywhere they moved me I was the only Indian and no one ever took the time to tell me who I was, where I came from of even what the hell was going on.'” (16) Because he was isolated from family and culture, he lacks the knowledge and strength he needs to be himself. Garnet, living in an all white society is unaware of what culture and from what society he actually belongs to, which is why he is in constant search for something he can call his own. Garnet does not know what its like to be Indian which initially
makes him feel unease and disconnected with his family and culture; “‘growing up in all-white homes, going to all-white schools, playing with all-white kids can get a guy to thinking and reacting all-white himself after a while. I just figured I was a brown white guy'” (17) so he feels that he has no choice but to become one of them, as he knows no different. Soon after that, Garnet learns the negative stereotypes about Native people when one of his foster fathers drives him to the Indian section of town showing Garnet all the drunks and homeless people, “‘See. Those are Indians. Look at them. If you don’t start shaping up and doing what you’re told around here, that’s what you’re going to be!'” ( 18) this takes away all the culture he ever had and encouraged him to not want to be Indian as he did not want to become like the people he saw. Keeper as a storyteller tries to pass the message of traditions and a way of life to guide Garnet, once he arrived in White Dog reservation. Finally, after spending some time at the reservation, Garnet was given another chance to gain confidence with the person he was. With the help of Keeper, Garnet is learning how it feels to be part of the Ojibway culture for the first time. Garnet was taught that to be a true Indian one must be a participant. To be a true Indian, one needs to learn “‘the why of this life instead of just the how'”(307).
Author Richard Wagamese with the help of Bernice Weissbourd’s quote informs the readers of the importance of tradition and its possible influences on one’s identity. The culture in which an individual grows up molds the views of one’s self and the world around them, in which maintains a connection with ancestors and traditions. A necessary factor in the lives of many people today, is the feeling of belonging to a group of people with similar interests, beliefs, religion, culture, traditional ways, etc.. Such behaviour is a very important aspect in the shaping of identity. Many are taught at a young age that ethnic traditions are meant to be celebrated and carried on from one generation to the next. In this novel, one of the most significant lessons to be taught is to always
find balance between culture, yourself and the world; “‘Find balance with things. Yourself. The world. Everything, on accounta change is the biggest law of nature. Fight change you fight yourself'” (196). Culture is so important because its extends the inner self of a person, to members within a society, or a community. Culture can form invisible bonds between members in the community, which can result in the passing on of values and traditional ways. This also builds up a long term tradition after years and years. Culture and tradition is strengthened by the passing on from generations and provides a background to its later generations, allowing there to be gain in a sense of belonging withing people and the culture in which they share.
Throughout Keeper ‘N Me, Richard Wagamese portrays and informs the importance of tradition in the novel based on the necessary balance between life and the culture in which one belongs too, in order to maintain a steady relationship with one’s self. It is made clear to the reader of the significance of passing on traditions or a certain way of life from generation to generation, and how it is one of the guiding aspects of the Ojibway culture. Wagamese throughout his novel is also tries to teach the readers the power of one’s community and traditions as he reflects a positive view of Native life. Furthermore, the author shows not only the significance of finding a place to belong, but rather the importance of one’s actions and emotions in finding a balance in life but at the same time not letting the presence of dominate views overlook the power of one’s self.
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