July 2016

3:7 Thomas King’s Characters Walking Out of the Book


(Dam collapsing, Wikimedia Commons licence.)

Reading Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water is immensely rewarding – it provides a look into the lives of contemporary First Nation peoples as well as those on reserves.  King has spent quite some years at the University of Lethbridge, located in Lethbridge, Alberta, and close to the Kainai First Nation (Blood Tribe, traditional Blackfoot territory).  Some of the characters in Green Grass, Running Water could have walked off the region into the novel.  Speaking of characters, they are alive.  King is successful as a storyteller because he has created the characters and then let them live their lives.  Below is an analysis at a point of impending doom from the tension and the water in the dam.


Alberta Frank (pp. 304-311)

Alberta is the very likeable character in Green Grass, Running Water.  She is intelligent, independent, and harms no one.  Okay maybe eventually she will harm one of Lionel and Charlie, but not maliciously – choice is in the nature of romantic relationships.  At this point of the plot, she has lost her car, and many things are just going wrong for her – marriage, kids (King 304-6)?  How First Nation does she want to be, or how white?  When Alberta breaks down in front of Connie the police officer, the reader could be relieved – she deserves the emotional release and company (King 309-11).  She is likeable for her strength.  Unlike Charlie or Lionel, she does not try to run away from her identity.  Instead, she does things like presenting history from the First Nation perspective as an academic (Horne).  She refuses to be subversive to the settler culture (Horne).  Alberta Frank is relatable – she is human with mortal weaknesses.  She asks existential questions like what should come of life.  At this point, she has “… [t]wo men, a good job, no responsibilities”, yet, she is not happy (King 309).


Dr. Joseph Hovaugh (pp. 312-315)

Continuing with existentialism – what does Dr. Hovaugh live for?  With his name being a play on the Judeo-Christian creator, is he omnipotent (Flick 144)?  He certain does assign significance to his things – the antique office desk from his wife, and the Karmann-Ghia convertible, for example.  He remains fairly flat in the narrative, and remains mostly as a keeper of order in the mental institution and garden.  Dr. Hovaugh is uncomfortable in Canada due to its “openness to the sky”, “wideness to the land”, and being generally disorganized” (King 312-4).  He is quite aware of his place in the hierarchy as a doctor and institution head.  This attitude is expressed in his interactions with Babo, who is dismissed by him as inferior.  He asks if her ancestors have been slaves – as small talk.  The question is answered eloquently by Babo: “Nope…  But some of my folks were enslaved” (King 313).  It is unclear if Dr. Hovaugh truly understands the difference.  Though given authority, he is fairly incompetent at tracking down the escapees.  The powerlessness is dramatized as he shouts and motions in the storm over his lost car (King 315).  He, the creator with his order and garden, keeps the First Nation creators as prisoners (Cox 231).


Lionel Red Dog (pp. 316-322)

Lionel is a different kind of prisoner – that of fate.  Things tend to go wrong for him, ever since he has been shipped to the Toronto hospital as the wrong sick child, fate has continued to play cruel jokes on him.  He works at Bill Bursum’s television and stereo store, after accidentally becoming a felon in the United States and losing his government job as a result.  King’s portrayal of Lionel is very believable because it is balance – he has faced discrimination, but he also contributes to his own fate.  For example, Lionel has planned to go back to university, however he has not acted.  And here he is at the store, age forty, with his new jacket (King 316).  Guess what is playing on the television map?  It has to be a western, starring Portland Looking Bear and John Wayne – the latter being Lionel’s hero since young age.  What is forthcoming is a decisive moment for Lionel, who has been accused of self-oppression and wanting to be white (Deshaye).  What is forthcoming is a gift and a boost – he needs it, after losing his government job, not wanting to be involved with his band, not going back to school, and probably not winning Alberta Frank’s love.  This time, John Wayne dies (King 324).  This time, Lionel Red Dog sees a different reality; quite a gift from the four tricksters.


Works Cited

Cox, James H.  “All This Water Imagery Must Mean Something: Thomas King’s Revisions of Narratives of Domination and Conquest in Green Grass, Running Water.”  American Indian Quarterly 24.2 (Spring, 2000): 219-46.  Web.  25 Jul. 2016.

Deshaye, Joel.  “Tom King’s John Wayne: The Western in Green Grass, Running Water.”  Canadian Literature 225 (Summer, 2015): 66-80,167.  Web.  25 Jul. 2016.

Flick, Jane.  “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water.Canadian Literature 161-162 (Summer/Autumn, 1999).  Web.  25 Jul. 2016.

Horne, Dee.  “To Know the Difference: Mimicry, Satire, and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.”  Essays on Canadian Writing 56 (Fall, 1995).  Web.  25 Jul. 2016.

King, Thomas.  Green Grass, Running Water.  Toronto: HarperPerennial Canada, 1999.  Print.

CBC 8th Fire Interviews Thomas King: Buffaloes and Ponies

A little pessimistic for a sunny weekend?

Thomas King, in an CBC 8th Fire interview talks about stereotypes, challenges, and the future.

He uses the imagery of “Indian [sic]… guys chasing buffaloes … riding ponies”.  The contemporary First Nation peoples rarely do that, but that is still the first thing people think of when First Nations are mentioned.  Perhaps from westerns shown on Green Grass, Running Water’s cheesy television map wall of Bill Bursum.  He also mentions the lack of sympathy for those in poverty, specifically in Canada.  Education is important, schools should teach the history of the relationship (if it is one) and treaties.

Towards the future, King is not optimistic.  He thinks realistically, First Nation peoples will have to accept compromises, and as to land, everybody else will have better ideas on how to use them than the First Nations themselves.  This is saddening and alarming coming from a person who has devoted much of his life to First Nation matters.

If you do spare the extra time to watch the interview, what is your response to it?

3:5 Join Me in the Clouds of Imagination

Cirrus(Cirrus clouds.  Wikimedia Commons licence.)

  1. In order to tell us the story of a stereo salesman, Lionel Red Deer (whose past mistakes continue to live on in his present), a high school teacher, Alberta Frank (who wants to have a child free of the hassle of wedlock—or even, apparently, the hassle of heterosex!), and a retired professor, Eli Stands Alone (who wants to stop a dam from flooding his homeland), King must go back to the beginning of creation.

Why do you think this is so?


In his Green Grass Running Water, Thomas King takes us up high to the cirrus clouds.  The clouds are perfectly comfortable seats to enjoy the performance, and once while, they turn into cotton candy as reward for the audience.  When one sits on the cirrus clouds, anything is possible.

The narrative in many ways goes in circles, and doesn’t life?  We makes plans, set goals, and once there, we become confused.  And just who are we?  We don’t choose where and when we’re born, to what culture, why do we exist?

In my opinion, that is why King constantly revisits the creation story.  The characters struggle to find out who they are, and what construct their worlds.  Because they did not, and “… whose appetite consumed the earth” (King “I’m not the Indian You had in Mind”).

The imposition of the “Indian” identity create struggle in the characters’ lives.  There is a strain of being too “Indian” and too “white”.  Lionel Red Deer stays to home, but does not want to run for band council.  Alberta Frank has had a life in white society, and then opens a café to sell fake dog meat and the “Indian” story to tourists.  Eli Stands Alone has had a life in academia, and then literally stands alone to guard his mother’s house against the monster dam.  The characters are trying to make sense of the world and themselves, and no, they are not the pre-historic “Indians” in movies and on television.

Who created the strange worlds for them?  Not the First Nations.  Maybe it’s the Dream Dog, who could be a canine who got things terribly wrong, or the Judeo-Christian God (Flick 143).  And these strange worlds collide with each other.  European worlds and First Nation worlds.  There is humour and satire extracted from the collisions, and they are good responses when one has no control of the worlds and circumstances (Chester 45, 51).

Now let us find our way back up the cirrus clouds.  King is a competent storyteller because he makes the stories fun and enjoyable.  He also tells the stories with honesty.  What resonates are the worlds that will present themselves to the audience.  The worlds, theirs and ours, are created by imagination.  And sometimes one group’s imagination dominates that of the other.

The three characters live in those peculiar imagined spaces.  Those places, like the television and stereo store, the house standing in the way of the dam, and the Dead Dog Café are the products of negotiation.  They show us how settlers really do get some things terribly wrong, with their science, facts, and hubris.

Up here in the clouds, anything is possible.  What if the First Nations retained their ways?  Do we exist to consume this planet, to make money and spend them on the newest television set?  King’s creation story tells us the “could haves”.  Look beyond the humour and the smirks on the characters’ face, and I am sure we will see wrinkles, strains, and tears.  Because there is “… no other place to go” (King “I’m not the Indian You had in Mind”).


Works Cited

Chester Blanca.  “Green Grass Running Water: Theorizing the World of the Novel.” Canadian Literature 161-162. (1999).  Summer/Autumn 1999.  Web.  16 Jul. 2016.

Flick, Jane.  “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water.” Canadian Literature 161-162.  Summer/Autumn 1999.  Web.  16 Jul. 2016.

King, Thomas.  “I’m not the Indian You had in Mind.”  Video.  Producer Laura J. Milliken. National Screen Institute.  2007.  Web.  April 04/2013.


3:2 Establishing Civility or Extinguishing Society?


(Painting James Gilchrist Swan, Public domain.)

2] In this lesson I say that it should be clear that the discourse on nationalism is also about ethnicity and ideologies of “race.” If you trace the historical overview of nationalism in Canada in the CanLit guide, you will find many examples of state legislation and policies that excluded and discriminated against certain peoples based on ideas about racial inferiority and capacities to assimilate. – and in turn, state legislation and policies that worked to try to rectify early policies of exclusion and racial discrimination. As the guide points out, the nation is an imagined community, whereas the state is a “governed group of people.” For this blog assignment, I would like you to research and summarize one of the state or governing activities, such as The Royal Proclamation 1763, the Indian Act 1876, Immigration Act 1910, or the Multiculturalism Act 1989 – you choose the legislation or policy or commission you find most interesting. Write a blog about your findings and in your conclusion comment on whether or not your findings support Coleman’s argument about the project of white civility.


Reading historical legislation is almost a form of time travel, it takes us into the minds of people back then, as to how they have viewed the world.  The Indian Act 1876 of Canada gives us a peculiar view into definitions that leads to nation building in the backdrop of bountiful nature and seemingly quiet First Nation peoples.  This article will commence with a focus on legal definitions as our telescope into early Canadian First Nation relations.  An interesting example being for the purpose of this piece of legislation, a person is defined as “…an individual other than an Indian” (An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians 3).  If a First Nation man or woman is not a person, then what are they?  From reading the Indian Act, a person is a suggested to be Christian and civilized, and there is a mechanism of “enfranchisement” for a First Nation man or married woman to become a fuller member of Canadian society, by satisfying government agents of his or her civility, or earning certain university degrees (An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians 26-7).  This seems like a system imposed by groups self-prescribed as civilized and superior over the existing inhabitants of the land, and to be fair, offer those inhabitants a way to become “honorary white”.

In a way these elements of the legislation fits Coleman’s analysis of civility, that the same is imagined and produced.  The production on the other side however, is banned.  In court cases pertaining First Nation claims and rights it has been important to define what is acceptable as pre-European political society, and descendants of members of such societies possess traditional rights.   This tool of analysis on its own is fine, what is problematic the early legislators have had the historical foresight to make an essential component of political society, gatherings such as the Potlatch unlawful, and thus killing the societies at that generation (The Indian Act).

If nationalism is the product of collective imagination, then the creation of the Canadian nation has been nightmare for those who got in the way.  It would be simplistic to point a finger at yell “historic wrong”.  What took place was wrong, no question.  Understanding what happened and why would be more helpful, and what is why early contact stories are so valuable.  Those accounts tell us why and how superiority has been constructed and made permissible, and how it has been acceptable within the civil society of the day.  On the other side, stories lead us to understand First Nation societies operate, what we may learn from them and how could we help in their full restoration.


Works Cited

An Act to amend and consolidate the laws respecting Indians.”  Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Government of Canada: 15 Sep. 2010.  Web.  07 Jul. 2016.

The Indian Act.”  First Nations and Indigenous Studies, UBC: 2009.  Web.  07 Jul. 2016.