Thursday, 26 February 2015

Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water

Please feel free to post your presentations and/or thoughts on Thomas King's novel Green Grass, Running Water here.


  1. I recently visited MOA and I was struck by Ellen Neel’s Thunderbird mask-like carving, Kwagu’l, 2665/1, in the Multiversity Gallery. The wooden mask resembles the face of an owl and has no other decoration. This lack of ornamentation allows the skill of the carver to be so obvious and realistic which, is in part why the mask captivated me. The recessed eye sockets, the large protruding nose and the way the “grain of the wood runs parallel to the plane of the face” makes it appear as if the material (natural) and carving (modified) are one (MOAs RRN).
    Neel’s mask reminded me of characters such as Charlie, Lionel, and Eli in Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water. In the story, these characters feel they must reject their indigenous identity and cultural traditions and adopt the norms of white North American society. Though these characters do try to conform to the societal pressures to “be Canadian”, they do not feel themselves and they face both internal and external struggle. It is as if they are caught in an in-between space; they may identify as both indigenous and Canadian yet do not feel they can or should simultaneously project a Blackfoot and Canadian cultural identity. Until these characters individually figure out how to be who they are and how to perform their societal and cultural roles in a way they are comfortable with, they resemble Neel’s mask. Both wood and carving (identity and society) have played a part in shaping what it has become yet it is neither more parts wood nor more parts carving.

    1. What lovely thoughts, Maclean. I will look for the mask you mention next time I visit MOA. I was also struck by how very difficult it must be (and still is for so many First Nations people) to grasp and live with the diversity between the culture that should have been their heritage and the 'Canadian' one that has been foisted on them - more so because so much wisdom/knowledge/lore has been lost through their residential school experiences. I thoroughly (and probably obviously) enjoyed this book....and believe all you say to be true. Your final statement says a great deal; carving one's mask(s) is truly an art form that requires a lifetime of practice.

  2. Hi Louise,
    I had meant to attach the RRN page of Kwagu'l, but I forgot!
    Here you are:
    The images truly do not do the mask justice, so I do hope you are able to see it in person!

  3. Thanks, Maclean. I will make it a priority....

  4. Greetings. I’ve tried to get my presentation notes into some readable form (apologies if I have to post more than once):

    Most of the Plains Indian Ledger Art can be found at:

    My search for the authentic images Alberta Frank cites on pages 19/20 led me to the Yale Library; this particular ledger book was ‘owned’ by Richard Pratt. I did, however, have to scour the internet for some that were missing - and do have to admit that the last image I included had nothing to do with the story, but everything to do with its meaning… it had an Indian ghost watching the prisoners drawing under the tutelage of a white woman: If anyone is interested in the others, I can supply the link….

    Green Grass, Running Water is a story told from a First Nations perspective, fashioned in their oral story-telling tradition. There is no separation of MYTHOLOGY, RELIGION, HISTORY, AND/OR RITUAL; First Nations weave those subjects through their tales in a way that defines their identity and gives meaning to their lives. Group 1’s (edited) clip of the National Film Boards’s trilogy devoted Pete Standing Alone circle of life provides excellent examples; it ends with visual reminders of the Sundance-and its imitation-of-life circularity. All 3 are great to watch!

    This too, is a circular tale that plaits (arguably) 3 narrative strands into a single braid, albeit they are embellished (as John pointed out) by a plethora of sub-narratives:
    2 strands are based on myth/religion: 1) narrator/Coyote, and 2) the 4 old Indians
    1 strand (Blossom, Alberta characters) is rooted in literary realism - of a sort

    Characters are not confined to their strands; they pop in and out of other narratives in ways that can confuse readers whose eyes have been educated to read stories instead of ears tutored in listening to TOLD tales.

    This multi-faceted text mirrors - and re-images - post-contact history. The success of Thomas King’s story relies on his use of unfamiliar symbols juxtaposed against ones that we do-or should-know in richly satirical fashion. Both are central to his themes of empowerment and healing for peoples misused and abused in colonial fashion towards the end of fixing or re-creating a world palatable palatable for both. So let’s circle back to the beginning. The first 3 pages tell us a lot.

  5. Post #2: From the beginning….

    Water: the book begins and ends with images of endless water; they permeate the story as well. Water is synonymous with all 4 of the creation myths: First Woman, Changing Woman, Thought Woman, Old Woman, as well as present in puddles that float cars away, lakes behind manmade dams, et al. Collectively, the images allude to/symbolize differing cultures that float, collide, and re-create the context of life.
    Coyote: ubiquitous trickster who has, according to First Nations mythology, existed from the beginning of time (he WAS even before human existence). Coyote can assume many roles-messenger, hero, transformer-some good, some not so good.
    Contary: contraries exist throughout Plains Indians oral culture; they rode horses backward, went into battle against their own people, etc.). The dog/GOD of Coyote’s dream is a contrary who symbolizes/satirizes the God of the Old Testament (the one alleged to have created the world), suggesting that First Nations religious beliefs preempt Judeo-Christian ones by virtue of pre-existence. From here on in, the dog/God appears as an ornery adjunct in the mythical narratives, an ineffectual Dr. Joseph Hovaugh in the reality stories. King also alerts readers to the alternative presentation of his literary offering.
    Narrator: King uses an unidentified narrator (first person POV) who attempts to explain creation (in oral story form) to his subordinate sidekick, Coyote. The narrator has omniscient knowledge of all action. IF it is true, as research indicates, that many First Nations people are reluctant to speak the name of the Creator (Unetlanvhi or oo-net-la-nuh-hee in Cherokee), and substitute Old Coyote instead, then it is significant that the narrator does not interact with any of the characters other than those in the First Nations creation stories: First Woman (pg. 39-floating by on an air mattress), Changing Woman (pg. 145-she lands on him in Noah’s canoe), Thought Woman (pg. 271-the snake in the scene with A. A. Gabriel, aka the serpent in the Garden of Eden), and Old Woman (pg 393/4-the prey Nasty Bumpo prepares to shoot). The Creator/Old Coyote of many First Nations historical myths/religious beliefs is likely the narrator of Green Grass, Running Water.

    “And here’s how it happened” (pg 3/431) indicates that the real story can begin…and be told again (and again).

    The text: Invocation

    I found the (approximate) translation of the Cherokee invocation (pg 15) at:

    Neuhaus, Mareike. “That’s Raven’s Talk: Holophrasic Readings of Contemporary Indigenous Literatures. Regina, SK, CAN: Canadian Plains Research Centre, 2011. ProQuest ebrary Web.

    Not only does it repeat the ceremonial opening of storytelling in a Cherokee divining ceremony, it symbolizes a Cherokee purification ceremony (Going to the Water). When questioned, King indicates that it not only represents a request to know the future or what it has to offer but also puts his readers on notice that the 4 old Indians are NOT present as comic relief in that they let us know that the world is about to be re-created or fixed, a theme that they themselves repeat throughout the book.

  6. Post #3: Syllabery/Role Play

    King’s limited use of the Cherokee syllabary is symbolic of a story rooted in the indigenous cultures of North American’s First Nations. It gives nod to the author’s own Cherokee heritage at the same time as it “others” non-native readers, putting us, for once, on the outside looking in rather than the other way around.

    The number 4 is:
    -sacred to many First Nations people
    -symbolic of 4 cardinal directions, 4 seasons, 4 parts of a person (physical/mental/spiritual/emotional)
    -the book is divided into 4 volumes; named (in Cherokee) for each of the 4 directions with its correlating colour

    Volume I: East/Red/new generation-new growth/sun rises in the East
    Volume II: South/White/further growth
    Volume III: West/black/ripeness
    Volume IV: North/Blue/old age/completion of the circle of life (n.b. Pete Standing Alone)

    In addition: Cherokee (and many other tribes) recognize ABOVE and BELOW-directions contained in the Earth-diving First Nations creation stories. In the presentation
    image, yellow indicates above/the sun, brown, below/the earth. The green circle in
    the centre symbolizes us (humanity) wherever we find ourselves in the world.

    Collectively, these images symbolize the Cherokee medicine wheel in a direct correlation to the healing process that is at the core of King’s story.

    Of note: Dr. Joe Hovaugh refers to the Indians (he believes them to be male; females could not have created Mother Earth) as Mr. Red, Mr. White, Mr. Black, and Mr. Blue (pg 52). The naming sequence mirrors the colours of the 4 directions.

    The Cherokee medicine wheel is, then, spherical rather than flat, a concept far more advanced than the hegemonic European parallel of a flat earth.

    We wanted the role play (pgs 18-21) to speak for itself. King is disinclined to spend any length of time dwelling on historical wrong-doings. This single scene, however, given the significance of the characters it contains, provides a concise and pertinent background for post-contact dis-empowerment, dis-enfranchisement, and the attempted erosion of First Nations belief systems. Alberta’s students (Henry Dawes, John Collier, Mary Rowlandson, Hannah Duston, Elaine Goodale, and-arguably-Helen Mooney) are all actual AMERICANS who figured prominently in the post-colonial treatment of indigenous people.

  7. Post #4: So let’s talk about the people….

    Henry Dawes was a U.S. politician who introduced the Dawes Act (1887) which privatized communally held Indian lands and led to the dispersal of more than 90 million acres to white purchasers, accompanied, of course, by much theft/trickery.
    John Collier (U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Roosevelt’s 1930’s administration) reversed Dawes’ assimilationist policies. In 1923, he organized the American Indian Defence Association to the the Bursum Bill. He was also responsible for the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, one based on Indian opinions/beliefs.
    Hannah Duston was an Indian captive in the mid-1700’s. She tomahawked and scalped her captors (including children) in revenge for the death of her baby. Her story has been included in the writings Mather/Thoreau/Hawthorne.
    Mary Rowlandson was held captive by Indians during King Philip’s War (1675-76) and later authored the gory anti-Indian narrative, “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God Together with the Faithfulness of His Promise Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682).
    Elaine Goodale was a young reformer who worked with the Superintendent of Indian Education for the Dakota Territory. She married Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa), a Sioux who was the first doctor to reach the killing field of Wounded Knee (1890). They met and married in the weeks immediately following the massacre.
    Helen Mooney’s name may relate to James Mooney, a pioneering ethnographer who wrote about many Cherokee sacred formulas and the Ghost Dance but is most likely a reference to Thomas King’s wife, Helen Hoy, who inspired his return to writing.

    Of relevance:

    Bursum, Buffalo Bill: combination of the names of 2 men famous for their hostility to Indians:
    Holm O. Bursum (1867-1952) was a senator from New Mexico, and an advocate for the exploration and development of New Mexico’s mineral resources; he proposed the infamous Bursum Bill of 1921 that aimed to divest Pueblo (Indians of the American South-west) of a large portion of their lands and give land title and water rights to non-Indians (note connection to land rights at the dam site in Green Grass, Running Water).
    Buffalo Bill Cody (1846-1917) exploited Indians for entertainment in his Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show

    Some satirical notes of interest:
    -Dawes is bored/disinterested in Alberta’s topic
    -Duston (hater) is cuddled up to John Collier (supporter).
    -Rowlandson (hater) is Goodale’s (supporter) BFF.
    -Helen Mooney is ardent in her attempt to make sure she gets the facts.
    -Bill Bursum provides the cross-over element to Canadian content.

  8. Post #5: Canadian Content….and the last one (almost)

    King does not go lightly on Canadians who played a major role in destroying the richness of culture that belonged to our country’s first inhabitants long before contact. He insinuates them into the story with both seriously satirical and playfully comic abandon (i.e. Bursum’s map of televisions can be read so many ways). On the serious side:

    In the book, Duncan Campbell Scott (pg 55) is Lionel’s supervisor during the period he worked for the Department of Indian Affairs, the one that refuses his assistance when Lionel finds himself ‘coerced’ into participating in AIM protests and fires him when he finally returns to Canada. In reality, Scott (1862-1947) is a Confederation poet whose works often referred to Indians as a ‘dying breed’. He was also a civil servant in the Department of Indian Affairs, Deputy Superintendent in 1923, involved in many of the treaty negotiations that included the title phrase, and largely responsible for ordering the prosecution of (and confiscating artifacts from) Indians taking part in feasts or potlatches (Sundances included). Remember the ceremonial costumes taken away from Amos Frank’s family?

    During the course of his real life (1861-1929), the fictional dam builder, Clifford Sifton (pg 110), nemesis and coffee companion of Eli Stands Alone, masterminded the promotion of the Prairie West Movement that championed legions of settlers flooding the prairies in search of their own quarter-section of homestead land, mindless of the displacement of First Nations people, their traditional hunting and grounds, and their right to live according to their customs. He was a high ranking member of Sir Wilfred Laurier’s government, knighted in 1896, and ironically, deaf for most of his life.

    Symbollically, the character of Eli Stands Alone (110 et al) defeats the completion of Sifton’s dam. He uses legal protocol to single-handedly prevent the release of water and flooding of native (and his own) territory around the cabin constructed by his mother in much the same way the Elijah Harper single-handedly cast the deciding vote that blocked Brain Mulroney’s Meech Lake Accord (1990) when he raised a white feather to protest the non-inclusion of First Nations rights in the Constitution. As well, his name bears strong resemblance to the figure of Pete Standing Alone featured in Group 1’s presentation.

    Where Elijah Harper blocked the Accord, Eli Stands Alone blocks the dam that creates Parliament Lake (116): the cesspool of water behind the Sifton’s creation, the site of Bill Bursum’s intended retirement home (complete with a satirically sweeping view of all that was accomplished by its construction), the body of water containing the Pinto, the Nissan, and the Karmenn-Ghia that would destroy-like Columbus’s ships-its very foundation.

    The James Bay Project/Grand Baleen Dam (136/407 et al) refers to the huge hydroelectric project in Quebec which was initiated on Cree land without consultation. The government/Cree settlement (1975) in excess of $225 million represents the first time native rights played a part in negotiation processes and retained their rights to hunt and fish. There were, of course, many historical implications, leading the characters of Blossom to question whether (or not) Sifton’s dam would make them millionaires.

    King holds many more Canadian feet to the political fire:

    Duplessis (pg 116, corrupt Quebec regime), Crosby (pg 117, Conservative patronage scandal), R. B. Bennet (pg 177, Alberta politician and Prime Minister 1930-35), Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his infamous 1969 White Paper (pg 271), Red River and Batoche (pg 157, Metis rebellion led by Louis Riel)……and many more.

  9. And in summation.....

    Canadian visitors to the Dead Dog Cafe receive lighter treatment:

    Polly Johnson (pg 156), Sue Moodie (pg 156), Archie Belany aka Grey Owl (pg 156), John Richardson (pg 156), Louie, Ray, and Al from Manitoba (334)….and the list goes on.

    Check out this link for the complete picture:

    Green Grass, Running Water is as rife with political satire as it is with symbolism. Coupled with the circularity of the First Nations oral tradition, King succeeds in exposing the richness of the First Nations cultures that were (almost) destroyed by colonization and unmasking the culprits responsible for its degradation. By empowering indigenous characters whose rights have been shot through with bullets, has also exposes an alternative ending - should we be strong enough to embrace it.

  10. Green Grass Running Water Characters - Main Storyline

    Main Characters
    Lionel Red Dog
    main character
    struggles with Western influence, often compared to uncle Eli
    TV salesman
    complicated romantic relationship with Alberta
    past mistakes (mistakenly thrown in jail, almost got heart surgery instead of tonsil removal)
    idolized John Wayne
    wishes to go back to university to get a degree
    given a leather jacket by the 4 Indians on his birthday

    Charlie Looking Bear
    lawyer, previously TV salesman
    father is famous Hollywood western actor
    Lionel’s cousin, more successful
    romantic interests with Alberta
    losing Aboriginal identity

    Alberta Frank
    university professor, teaches Aboriginal culture and history
    main female character
    in touch with Aboriginal identity
    identity issues related to her gender
    wishes to have a child, but not a husband
    relationships with Lionel and Charlie
    explores options for artificial fertilization, or ask one of the men
    shows signs of pregnancy at Sun Dance
    Coyote alludes to causing her to be pregnant

    Eli Stands Alone
    retired professor
    criticized for being influenced by Western culture
    uncle of Lionel and Latisha
    lives in a cabin in the forest built by his mother
    fighting against the building of a damn that would destroy the cabin
    opposition to Clifford Sifton

    Supporting Characters
    Lionel’s sister
    raises 3 children alone after abusive husband (george Morningstar) left
    owns a cafe visited often by tourists
    gives support to Lionel as well as Alberta

    Lionel and Latisha’s mother
    plays typical motherly role

    Eli’s sister, Lionel and Latisha’s aunt
    critical of Eli and Lionel for having too much white influence

    Bill Bursum
    owner of TV store where Charlie and Lionel both worked at
    lack of appreciation for First Nations culture
    enjoys old Westerns
    comes off as obnoxious and sometimes rude

  11. Creation Stories
    4 Indians
    no clear distinction other than names and different creation myths
    usually referred to as a whole by other characters
    break out of hospital and sought after
    each tell their own version of a creation story
    First Woman-Lone Ranger
    Changing Woman-Ishmael
    Thought Woman-Robinson Crusoe
    Old Woman-Hawkeye
    named after characters in western literature
    seek to “fix the world”, changed western movies
    end up in Blossom for the Sun Dance

    Unnamed Narrator
    tells the 4 Indians’ creation myths
    relays them to Coyote
    this is the version we hear as the reader
    identity unclear but could be another Coyote

    mythical First Nations trickster
    communicates with the 4 Indians and narrator
    narrator tells the creation stories to him
    other characters able to see him but not communicate
    helps cause the breaking of the dam with earthquake and Alberta’s pregnancy

    Escape Story
    Joseph Hovaugh
    doctor in charge of 4 Indians
    enjoys having authority over people
    gets Babo to come seek the escapees with him

    Babo Jones
    black female janitor at the hospital
    plays sidekick to Dr. Hovaugh in search for the Indians

    Sergeant Ben Cereno
    police officer in charge of the missing Indians case
    impatient and has a temper
    not very successful in his interrogations
    Officer Jimmy Delano
    partner of Ben Cereno
    more patient and understanding
    more successful in getting information from others

  12. Here's a link to a clip titled "How to be a real Indian" from the 1998 film Smoke Signals:

    Wonderfully enough, this film features an all-Native American cast, crew, producer, director, and technician team!
    In itself, the film is a humorous and heartfelt exploration of the idea of "Indian" identity (and each character has their own idea of what "Indian" means).

    Without giving too much away, the story mostly focuses on two young adults named Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire as they embark on a trip to retrieve the ashes of Victor's recently deceased father. The two are not exactly compatible: while the former resolves to be the more "stoic" "Indian" - all the while holding resentment towards his unhappy childhood and bitterness towards his present circumstances - the latter holds the more romantic view of the "Indian," and is always speaking as if he is telling a story. Along the way, they meet other individuals who are also trying to negotiate their own version of an "Indian" identity.

    Although the film is about Native Americans (i.e. First Nations in the USA, not Canada), it's still significant in its exploration of what "Indian" identity means (hint: it's never, of course, what we - what society - expects it to be. Not that we were ever right in the first place). Furthermore, the border between Canada and USA is pretty arbitrary in that it was not created by Indigenous groups of North America; on either side of the border, there are similar questions, even if present-day political borders create different experiences.

    If you don't have time to watch the film, you should still watch the other clips that are posted on youtube! (Most of them are in the sidebar)

  13. My notes/presentation on symbolism in “Green Grass, Running Water”.

    Water has a big significance in the book. There are different ways in which water is represented.
    1. Floating: Thought Woman floats in the ocean for a long time before floating ashore. The three cars float over the dam;
    Puddles: missing cars are replaced by puddles of water;
    There are numerous bodies of water throughout the book.
    Each symbolizes disconnection. Disconnection of Thought Woman from land but also from water as she floats on top. Puddles are small, disconnected bodies of water. In the book there’s a disconnection of the individual from their culture and identity.

    2. The world started with water according to Coyote. Each of the four creation myths has a strong component of water.

    3. Water that is always moving symbolizes the never ending, always flowing changes of culture.

    4. Water represents storytelling and the “flow” of the story. Storytelling in both the First Nations oral tradition and the Western written tradition is used in “Green Grass, Running Water” and both flow throughout the book.

    1. The book begins with, “So. In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.” And ends with the unnamed narrator about to begin a story of the water’s origins.

    2. The first story line of the four First Nations elders begins with them escaping the hospital. In the end of the book, they float away after the dam breaks and return back to the hospital.

    3. Running water is very cyclic. The water cycle incorporates falling from the sky as rain, running down rivers and waterfalls, into the ocean, and evaporates into the air which starts the cycle over again. If rivers are blocked by a dam, the whole cycle is broken. In the novel, there is the main story line of the huge dam. Breaking the dam reinstates the natural cycle.

    1. The word “that” is used often and affirms otherness. Otherness is defined as the quality or fact of being different. The book puts each person referred to as “that” (e.g. That God, that woman and that ocean) into a separate category of the one in which they belong. This singles them out as being different.

    The Three Cars:
    1. Throughout the book, three cars go missing. A Red Pinto, blue Nissan and White Karmann Ghia.

    2. These cars sound like Christopher Columbus’ ships: The Pinta, The Nina (The Santa Clara), and The Santa Maria who sailed over and colonized the Western world.
    3. The three “American” (Western/Modern) cars float over the dam and eventually overrun what the First Nations were trying to keep the whole time. This represents how American culture has destroyed and overrun First Nation culture.

    Masks, Myths, & Identity: I wanted to talk about symbolism in terms of our class theme.
    1. Many characters in the book wear a mask. First Woman wears a mask, all four Indians wear masks, Charlie’s dad wears a mask. Throughout the story every character is wearing some kind of mask to cover up their true identities.

    2. For myths, the book contains four different creation myths.

    3. And regarding identity. There are numerous aliases which are a false or assumed identity. Each person in the novel goes by a name other than their own, changing or hiding their identity.

    Chantel Wright

  14. Setting

    • The setting of this book is based upon the fictional town of Blossom, Alberta and revolves around a First Nations Blackfoot community

    • This town is not only used in this book, however, as it is also appears in one of Thomas King’s other novels (One Good Story, That One, also published in 1993)

    • There is a particular type of imagery and meaning that the name Blossom embodies. Not only does it suggest natural beauty, but also regeneration. It is also a small town, which fits with the name, as blossoms are usually small entities

    The story also has additional ties to other Canadian cities such as:

    • Alberta Frank who is a college professor in Calgary, Alberta
    • Eli Stands Alone, who used to work as a professor in Toronto, Ontario

    The Sun Dance also takes place on the outskirts of town. Here the community gathers once a year to take part in sacred rituals. Members set up their own camps that encompass their family and extended relatives. This ceremony is much like the one shown in our video clip.

    Additionally, another setting point involves Eli’s childhood property. Here, a proposed dam threatens the land in which this property lies, and Eli is determined, through lawsuits and pure determination, to stop this from becoming a reality.

  15. Structure of Text

    • This book is broken into 4 main sections – each denoted by a title written in Cherokee

    Each section of the book contains a different story of creation, where the elder narrates the section:

    o In each of these stories the mythical woman and coyote come across a biblical character, as well as a male character of westerly origin (from western novels or media):

    • The 1st section creation story deals with First Woman (set within a garden) – where she encounters Ahdamn (from the biblical story of Adam and Eve) and eventually adopts the name Lone Ranger

    • The 2nd section creation story involves Changing Woman (falls out of the sky and sees a canoe full of animals) – she encounters Noah (from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, and later Moby Jane [reminiscent of Moby Dick]) and adopts the name Ishmael

    • The 3rd section creation story revolves around Thought Woman (who has been floating in the ocean for a while and finally floats ashore) – she encounters both Mary and Gabriel (from the biblical story of the Virgin Mary) and adopts the name Robinson Crusoe

    • The 4th section creation story contains Old Woman (who falls through a hole, through the sky, and into the water) – she sees a young man walking on water (representative of Jesus, the son of God, from the bible) and also runs into Nasty Bumppo (representative of “Natty Bumppo” who is a protagonist in a series of books called Leatherstocking Tales) and adopts the name Hawkeye

    The Western names that these elders adopt are somewhat personifying the fact that their identities have been tainted.

    The non-mythical plot of the book interweaves these 4 sections.

    • Each character is given a subplot.

    • Each individual storyline relate to one another. Most people in the book are relatives, or know one another through the small town of Blossom, Alberta.

    • Focal goal of these individual stories lead to one main event, which is ultimately the Sun Dance

  16. Plot

    • The plot line shows the struggle of Blackfoot culture and tradition, interwoven with white culture and biblical religious beliefs that overshadow their freedom

    • The book begins with this quote by an unnamed narrator – “So. In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.” (1). This narrator converses on and off with Coyote and their communication adds insight and humour to the text.

    There are five major plot lines:

    o The first story line is that of the four Native American elders (known as The Lone Ranger, Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, and Hawkeye) who are on a mission to fix the world. The four characters in this plot line are accompanied by Coyote, who turns out to not be much of an asset in their helping endeavours. With the escape of these individuals, the doctor in charge of their care (Dr. Joe Hovaugh) and his assistant (Babo) go on a search to find the escapees and bring them back to the hospital.

    o The second story line is that of Lionel Red Dog, Charlie Looking Bear, and Alberta. Here a love triangle dominates, as Alberta is seeing both of these men. Lionel and Charlie are cousins, which adds to the tension. Alberta wants a child, but does not want a husband, and steers clear of serious commitment with either of these men. Lionel works at a dead end job with a horrible boss in the small town of Blossom, which prompts him to consider going back to school. Lionel stands in contrasts to his cousin Charlie, as he is quite a successful lawyer. Alberta struggles with which of her suitors she should pick, or whether to abandon them both.

    o The third story line is that of Eli Stands Alone. He is living in his childhood home, which stands in the path of the up and coming Grand Baleen Dam. Eli is against the building of this dam, and throughout the story is in a lawsuit-filled legal battle.

    o The fourth story line is that of Latisha and her estranged husband George. Their story revolves around the abusive nature of George, as well as Latisha’s job at the Dead Dog Café – a tourist attraction in the town of Blossom that serves “dog meat.”

    o Finally, the fifth story line involves the aforementioned creation stories.

    Ultimately all of the characters are gearing up for the Sun Dance and are on their way to this pivotal ceremony. While this ceremony is occurring, an odd occurrence transpires. Throughout the novel, cars have gone missing and have been replaced by puddles of water. Finally, the cars are reunited, but are floating on the lake. This is where the mythical and real stories really begin to overlap.

    In amidst of these runaway cars, Eli (who is not in attendance at the Sun Dance) invites Coyote and the four Indians up for coffee. While they are there, Coyote’s travel companions discover he has been singing and dancing and with this information an earthquake erupts. The earthquake causes the dam to break and ends up killing Eli in the process. Coyote and the four Indians, however, drift off unharmed and it is discovered that the four missing inpatients that Dr. Hovaugh was looking for have returned back safely.

    Lionel, Charlie, Alberta, Latisha, and Norma (Lionel and Latisha’s aunt) are brought together by the death of Eli and their story ends as they are attending to the destruction that was caused by the earthquake.

    Finally, the story ends with the unnamed narrator beginning a story of how the water came to be. As a reader, you are left wondering if the story the narrator is about to tell is the one you just read, or one of a different nature. The water signifies origin, with an example in Coyote’s statement, “But where did all the water come from,” (431) and the repetition of the opening represents the cyclical foundation of the book.

  17. Instead of posting my notes, I'll post the link to the article, Marlene Goldman's "Mapping and Dreaming" that I drew a lot of my presentation from:

    It's not too long and not particularly hard to get through (unlike some academic articles, ugh) so definitely give it a read if you're interested!

  18. Here is the Pete Standing Alone trilogy that I took footage from for the edited video presented in class:

  19. And here are my background notes on Tomas King from the presentation slide:

    Born and raised in Sacramento, California.
    Cherokee father, Greek/Swiss German mother.
    Father left family early on, raised mainly by his mother.
    Went to private Catholic school and public high school.
    Flunked out of Sacramento State University, joined Navy, discharged for knee injury.
    Completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Chico State University.
    Worked as counsellor for aboriginal students in Utah, completed Ph.D in English at University of Utah.
    Moved to Canada in 1980.
    Taught Native Studies at University of Lethbridge.
    Served as faculty member of University of Minnesota’s American Indian Studies Dept.
    Currently an English Professor at University of Guelph in Ontario.
    His Ph.D dissertation (1971) was on Native Studies, one of the first works to explore the tradition of oral storytelling as literature.
    Was an activist as part of the American Indian Movement (AIM) in early 1970s, was stopped in a van on the way to Wounded Knee… (#Lionel)
    Later began to incorporate his activism within his literature and the Dead Dog Cafe Comedy Hour radio show on CBC (1997-2000), which incorporated a lot of material from Green Grass, Running Water.
    In 2003 King was the first lecturer of Aboriginal descent to give the Massey Lectures. His lectures entitled The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative explored the Native experience in oral stories, literature, history, religion, politics, popular culture and social protest.
    2004 made member of the Order of Canada.

    Background on Green Grass, Running Water:

    Published in 1993, first draft was written while on a one month residency at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, where King also wrote his first novel Medicine River.
    Set in the Blackfoot Community in Alberta.
    Title of book in reference to U.S. government promising Native Americans rights to their land as long as “the grass is green and water runs.” Which is significant to the book bringing up First Nation issues with land ownership and the politics surrounding the topic.
    The story represents a dualism throughout, starting with Coyote, the Aboriginal trickster figure and Dog (or GOD, but is only a dream of Coyote). Other characters and situations also showcase this Aboriginal/Western duality.
    Uses humour and satire, mixing native oral traditions and ideas from western religion/government/society, highlighting both weaknesses and strengths between oral tradition vs. western narrative tradition.

  20. I feel like we had a lot of good discussion on the themes and symbols of this book in class, so I wanted to take this opportunity to touch on something else in Green Grass, Running Water that is so obvious that I think it's taken for granted, but which is still very important in my opinion and that's the structure of the book. I'll admit that when I began this novel I was 1. Overwhelmed but the literal size of it. 2. Very skeptical of the form of writing. Why did all of the pages begin in the middle instead of at the top? Why were there only a few words on several of the pages? Who was narrating? What is this bizarre and unfamiliar narrating style? (My father tells me that as a very small child anytime my parents wanted to go anywhere they would have to negotiate out the terms of what we were going to do with me. I was very wary of everything that was going on and I insisted on being included in all discussions. I think this is perhaps representative of the same wariness for change I showcase today hahah). But as the book wore on a began to really appreciate the structure of the novel both artistically and for the entertainment value it provided. I didn't find it to be particualarly kitschy, and yet it was very effective at telling the story in a way that somewhat mirrored a tradition of oral storytelling. I think that while certainly unprecedented this was a really excellent stylistic choice on the part of the author. I'd be very interested to read other books with a similar format.