Through the Eye of the Raven

Through the Eye of the Raven

Lesson 3.3 Assignment 3.7

I chose to examine a critical moment in the lives of Lionel Red Dog and Eli Stands Alone, in Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water. For this reason, I examined these pages (within the 2007 version of the novel): Lionel Red Dog – Pages: 60 – 69 and Eli Stands Alone – Pages: 378 – 382.

In these two sections, only Lionel’s pages are referenced by Jane Flick. However, in both parts, I found additional connections and interconnections between the characters that are not in Flick. In this blog post, I focus not on Flick’s notes, but instead on the additional observations that I have made. that uncover king’s de-colonization and his implied message about colonization.

Lionel Red Dog – Pages: 60 – 69

Lionel goes to Wounded Knee, where there is an on-going occupation by Native Americans protesting their poor living conditions and treatment (Flick 148-9). Lionel’s purpose,  in going to Wounded Knee, was to read his boss’ paper, but instead of accomplishing this, he inadvertently gets drawn into the protest. Some observations I had about this section:

Lionel’s name, “Lionel Red Dog”, (King 64) also points to King’s use of reversals, or backwardness throughout the novel. The reference to Dog reminds us of “[t]hat Dog Dream [that] has everything backward” from the beginning of the book (King 2).

Commentary on the Residential School System:
Lionel “stood there, feeling vulnerable” (King 60). I believe this is a reference to the vulnerability of children who were placed in Residential Schools (“Reclaiming“).  Betraying Lionel as vulnerable, King once again uses reversal as a method of making his point. He shows Lionel standing with the protesting Indians, feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. He is “shifting from one leg to the other, putting his hands behind his back, putting his hands in front of him, pushing his lips out, sucking his lips in” (King 60). Lionel, a First Nations person, is feeling uncomfortable and detached in this situation. When he first arrived, he had no reaction to the fact that the people there were protesting against the poor treatment of Native American Peoples. It did not occur to him, that the issues of the protesters, were also his own issues. Through Lionel’s reactions, King shows just how effective the Residential School systems was in destroying Native People’s connection to their culture.

King further drives home his point, that Native People’s connections to their roots have been severed, through his reference to the confiscation of numerous Reservations: Lionel tries to make an excuse so he can leave when he said, “I’ve got a reservation.” To which the protester “took Lionel by the shoulders, looked at him hard, and said, “Some of us don’t” (King 61). These few words emphasize not only actual theft of Native lands, but also the theft of Native communities through the deliberate destruction of families and bands. Aboriginal peoples believe that all life is interconnected. “First Nations relationships fully embrace the notion that people and their families are strongly connected to the communities they live in, their ancestors and future descendants, the land they live on, and all of the plant, animal and other creatures that live upon it” (“Interconnectedness”).  However, with colonization, Native beliefs were outlawed and children were forcibly torn away from their parents and placed in residential schools. This process caused generations of Aboriginal children to be separated from their communities and from their beliefs. Moving Aboriginal peoples into residential schools ripped away their source of spirit and because they no longer felt a connection to their people, land, or ancestors, many were left feeling isolated and bereft.

King’s use of cartoon character to portray official “government-type” individuals.
I believe King uses cartoon character names for the official “government-type” characters, first to portray how credible, yet ridiculous the situation is that Lionel finds himself. In addition to this, I believe it is a statement about the historical relationship between the government and Native Peoples. “Tom and Gerry” are the two Hotel security men who escort Lionel to the police (King 67). “Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse, are the stars of a Long-Running series of short theatrical cartoons produced by MGM” (“YMMV”). The use of the names, Tom and Gerry, reinforces the position that the Invading Europeans, erroneously felt they did nothing wrong in their actions towards the Native Peoples. This is shown through the trope: “Tom never ever did anything wrong! Tom was only following his instincts, how dare Jerry object to being eaten!” (“YMMV”).

Tom and Gerry hand Lionel over to two police officers, “Chip” and Dale” (King 68). “Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers was one of several Animated Series on the syndicated “Disney Afternoon” block of the late 1980s into the 1990s”. The Rescue Rangers started “after a police dog they befriended is put behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit” (“Chip”).  The first point I want to make is, Chip and Dale are goofy characters and they are Rangers. In this way Chip and Dale are a metonomy for police as stupid and unintelligent. As a result, King is using them to send a message about the police. Secondly, Lionel’s situation is a reflection of Chip and Dale’s friend, who was put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

Commentary on Stereotypes:
King engages in yet another reversal, when Lionel spends a month in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit, and returns to “Blossom, an unemployed ex-con” (King 68).  Lionel moves from being detached from his cultural situation, to being placed in the centre of the negative reality of his culture, resulting in part, from the Residential School System.  Lionel becoming unemployed speaks directly to stereotypes attributed to Native Peoples.  “Over the course of history, since Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ North America, First Nations have been depicted as blood thirsty savages (the earliest stereotype), drunken, poor, wooden, lazy, and “casino rich” (the latest stereotype), to name a few (Joseph).  Lionel is tagged as an Indian Activist, loses his position, but finds a new job.  However, three weeks later, “the police arrived to question him about a rally that the American Indian Movement had planned for the following weekend” (King 69).  Lionel knows nothing about it, but just the suspicion that he might causes him to become “unemployed again” (King 69). Stereotypes are an important issue, because “[f]or First Nations, it diminishes self-esteem and cultural pride, and for non-First Nations it dehumanizes and enhances negative perceptions of First Nations people and their culture” (Joseph). The last few pages of Lionel’s section that I analyzed tie directly back to the residential school system, and reflect the “response to RCAP’s five-volume report that revealed an overwhelming link between the social crisis in Aboriginal communities and the Residential School System” (“Reclaiming”).  Lionel’s situation goes beyond stereotypes, and speaks to a failed system.  A system that has resulted from long-term historic trauma resulting from the residential school experience.

Eli Stands Alone – Pages: 381 – 382

Eli is driving Lionel to the Sun Dance when he recalls the death of his wife, Karen. There is a lot going on within these few pages, but I am going to focus on these main points: The role that death plays in Native Culture, the Sun Dance, and the notion of home. These are my observations:

Death in Native Culture:
“The Blackfoot believe spirits to be an active and vital part of everyday life. Therefore, they viewed illness as the visible presence of an evil spirit in a person’s body. Consequently, such illness required the expertise of a professional medicine man or woman who had acquired, through a vision, the ability to heal the sick by removing evil spirits” (Hanes). Taking this belief into consideration puts a different view on both Karen’s sickness and her recovery. It raises the question of what evil spirit caused her illness, and what caused the evil spirit to leave.  Add into this mixture the fact that she still dies, because she is hit by a car as they prepare to return to the Sun Dance after being absent for “over twenty years” (King 381). This raises the question, of what evil spirit brought forth her death.  I believe King is making a statement about the Sun Dance and evil spirits.

Sun Dance:
“Once the Sun Dance lodge was erected around the central cottonwood pole, the dance began and lasted four days. During this time, the dancers, who had taken their own sacred vows, fasted from both food and water. They called to the sun, through sacred songs and chants, to grant them power, luck, or success” (Hanes). In addition, the European Invaders tried to ban the Sun Dance. I think it is interesting to note that Eli never wanted to go to the Sun Dance, and when he finally decided to return, because Karen requested it, and she had just defeated death, he reluctantly agreed to go. However, Karen’s life was taken from her before he (or they) could return.

Add to this, as “quoted by Lawrence House, the Sundance Chief, and the caretaker of the ceremony: ‘If there were a hierarchy of ceremonies, the Sundance would be at the pinnacle,’ he said. ‘It’s the ceremony of ceremonies. That’s because the Sundance involves a sacrifice of self to give something to the Creator in order to have prayers answered’” (Ashawasegai). Karen’s death is a sacrifice of life, but for what answered prayer?

Notion of Home:
Karen asks Eli if he is afraid of going home, and he answers, “I am home” (King 382).  Throughout the novel Eli has separated himself from his cultural ties, and has turned his back on his family and people. In many ways this signifies the isolation created within Native communities resulting from the Residential School System (“Reclaiming”).  Eli was conflicted on who he was, and as his sister Norma tells Lionel, “Your uncle wanted to be a white man” (King 36).  He married a white woman, he turned his back on his home and culture, but in the end he returns.  The death of Karen – his place of home, caused him to return to his roots. To return to the home he grew up, a home that he decides to save from the dam.

Works Cited

Ashawasegai, Jennifer . “Sundance is the Ceremony of Ceremonies.” Windspeaker Volume: 30 Issue: 6. The Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (2012). Web. 7 July 2016.

Chip’n’Dale Rescue Rangers.TV Tropes. Tvtropes.org. n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

Collins, Haisla, et el. Through the Eye of the Raven. 2010. Mural. Raven’s Eye Studio, Vancouver. Web. 26 July 2016.

Flick, Jane. “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” Canadian Literature 161/162 (1999). Web. 18 July 2016.

Hanes, Richard C. and Pifer, Matthew T. “Blackfoot.” Countries and Their Cultures. EveryCulture.com. n.d.Web. 27 July 2016.

InterconnectednessFirst Nations Pedagogy. FirstNationsPedagogy.com. n.d. Web. 27 July 2016.

Joseph, Bob. “The Enduring Nature of First Nation Stereotypes.Working Effectively with Indigenous People  ictinc.ca. n.d. Web. 14 April 2015.

King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. New York: Bantam Books, 1994. Print

Reclaiming History: The Residential School System in Canada.” Where are the Children. WhereAreTheChildren.ca. n.d. Web. 26 July 2016.

YMMV/Tom and Jerry”. TV Tropes. Tvtropes.org n.d. Web. 26 July 2016



Washed Away

Lesson 3.2 Assignment 3.5

#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?

Ocean Wave, Tsunami

Ocean Wave, Tsunami

There is much more going on in this story than Lionel, Alberta, and Eli’s personal challenges. There is the interweaving of several storylines, and they all centre around water. “Where did the water come from?” askes Alberta, Patrolman Delano, Sergean Cereno, and Lionel (King 104). In addition, the last two sentences in the first section are: “In the beginning there was nothing. Just the water” (King 107). The theme of water continues throughout and ends with the dam breaking, and this is the crux of the story. King writes, “beneath the power and the motion [of the dam breaking] there was a more ominous sound of things giving way, of things falling apart” (454). This I believe, is why King goes back to the beginning of creation, because creation cannot occur without water. He wants things, as in the current situation between First Nations and the governments of Canada and the U.S. to be reborn. He wants the current situation to give way to something better. A falling apart of how things have evolved, to make room for an improved, more equitable situation for the original inhabitants of this land.  King is deliberately using water to make a point, and I believe he uses it because it is through water that creation is possible. “‘Hmmmm, says Coyote. ‘All this watery imagery must mean something’” (King 391).

The first creation story King tells is of “First Woman” (King 38). It is interesting to note that she ends up on a train with “a bunch of Indians” with “chains on their legs”, and all of them are “going to Florida” (King 105). This ties in directly with Alberta’s story to her students about the army putting 72 Native Americans into chains. They were “put on a train and sent to Florida” where they were “imprisoned at Fort Marion” (King 15). Note, this is a metonymy of the treatment received by the Native Peoples of North America by the European Invaders. In addition, this points to the reason why King intertwines the stories of Lionel, Alberta, and Eli with the beginning of creation. Not only does he wants each of these characters to re-create their own stories, but he also wants to re-create the story of how the Native Peoples of North American have been, and continue to be, treated.

The title of the book by Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water, alludes to both water, and the treatment of the Native Peoples. “As long as the grass is green and the water’s run” (King 234) is a direct quote from “Article 5 of the Treaty with the Comanches and Other Tribes and Bands, 12 August 1861” (Bernholz). The title ties into not only water, but also the treatment of Native Peoples. This dual message within the water theme can be found in the three cars that get carried away by water and eventually float out over the edge of the dam. “The Pinto is the first of a series of jokes about the disappearing cars that go over the dam. The three ships of Columbus on the voyage sponsored by Isabella of Spain were the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.” (Flick 146). The three ships of Columbus, that crossed the water, started the European colonization of North America. Throughout the book, these three cars are carried away by water. However, this water theme also includes purification, and points to correcting the wrongs that were done to Native Peoples. This can be found when Robinson Crusoe says: “‘The last time you fooled around like this,’” said Robinson Crusoe, ‘the world got very wet.’ ‘And we had to start all over again’” (King 456). This is a reference to the great flood, and “[a] flood myth or deluge myth is a symbolic narrative in which a great flood is sent by a deity, or deities, to destroy civilization in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth” (Flood).  Note, this is a reference to cleansing humanity, and of making wrongs right again.  It is important to consider that the idea of the great flood “is a theme widespread among many cultures” (Flood).  Click here for full details about the full extent of this myth (Flood).

I believe that King goes back to the beginning of creation as a statement that the current situation needs to be reborn. Although each of these characters are running from their past, each take steps to create a new future, and in this way their actions reflect the need for rebirth.


Works Cited:

Bernholz, Charles D., et al. “As long as grass shall grow and water run: The treaties formed by the Confederate States of America and the tribes in Indian Territory, 1861.” Treaties Portal. n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.

Flick Jane. “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water.” Canadian Literature 161/162 (1999). Web. 18 July 2016.

“Flood Stories.”  Crystal Links. CrystalLinks.com. n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.

King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. New York: Bantam Books, 1994. Print

Ocean Wave, Tsunami.” n.d. Digital Image. Mota. Web 18 July 2016.



First voices

Chekamos River

Chekamos River

Lesson 3.1 Assignment 3.2

5]  In her article, “Green Grass, Running Water: Theorizing the World of the Novel,” Blanca Chester observes that “the conversation that King sets up between oral creation story, biblical story, literary story, and historical story resembles the dialogues that Robinson sets up in his storytelling performances (47). She writes:

“Robinson’s literary influence on King was, as King himself says, “inspirational.” When one reads King’s earlier novel, Medicine River, and compares it with Green Grass, Running Water, Robinson’s impact is obvious. Changes in the style of the dialogue, including the way King’s narrator seems to address readers and characters directly (using the first person), in the way traditional characters and stories from Native cultures (particularly Coyote) are adapted, and especially in the way that each of the distinct narrative strands in the novel contains and interconnects with every other, reflect Robinson’s storied impact.” (46)

For this blog assignment I would like you to make some comparisons between Harry Robson’s writing style in “Coyote Makes a Deal with the King Of England” and King’s style in Green Grass, Running Water. What similarities can you find between the two story-telling voices? Coyote and God are present in both texts, how do they compare in character and voice across the stories?

Robinson’s story “Coyote Makes a Deal With the King of England” (Robinson 64 – 85) and King’s story “Green Grass, Running Water” (King) share many similarities. Both stories experience the world through Native oral traditions and Western written traditions of storytelling. In this way they combine first voices with written text to create dialogue between Western theory and Native theory.  As a result, both stories blend current day Western elements and traditional Native stories.  As Chester writes in her article: both ways of storytelling, “reveals a dialogue with the past that moves into the present” and this incorporates “a history of Native tradition that now includes European elements within it” (Chester 45). In this way both stories reveal and utilize both Native and non-Native ways of knowing the world.

Another method that is used in both texts is the deliberate avoidance of directly addressing specific topics. For King, he alludes to the characters heading to the Sundance, and he gives glimpses of the Sundance, yet he does not directly speak about the Sundance. For Robinson, his story points to a reckoning, which implies Truth and Reconciliation, but does not address  this directly. I feel that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has started to prepare the path for reparation, however, far too many people are unfamiliar with the details. I came across an excellent interview by Conversations That Matter entitled, “Truth & Reconciliation Reading Challenge. Click here for the video, and to learn more about this challenge.

Robinson and King’s stories both draw the reader/listener into the story, and make the listener/reader an active participant in the story. At times, in both stories, the words need to be read aloud to get the full understanding of what is being said. For example, in King, three men come into the Dead Dog diner with the names, “Louie, Ray, Al” (King 338). However, if you just read the words, you will not appreciate the connection, nor the meaning, that these allude to Louis Riel (the leader of the Métis and the Red River Rebellion). Whereas with Robinson, his story encourages reader to read them out aloud, because they are written with an oral voice. As a result, both authors meld oral story telling with written words. As Shultis writes in her thesis, “[b]y gesturing towards orality in their written literature, these authors [this includes Robinson’s work and also applies to King’s work] acknowledge the dialogic nature of a narrative that has been shaped by ancestral experiences and memory and thus write against the colonial master narrative of the contemporary Canadian nation-state” (Shultis iii). Click here to read the full thesis.

Coyote and God are present in both texts. In Robinson, “God sent the Angel to Coyote” (Robinson 66).  In this story, and in his first story about the twins, God is a benevolent being. Coyote and his twin, in Robinson’s stories, are the forefathers of both the First Nations people of Canada, as well as of the English. In the first story about the twins, Coyote is not the trickster, but instead is the obedient twin. However, when Coyote goes to England to meet the King, he needs to trick the King into agreeing to write the book. In this way  Coyote plays the trickster. However the trick Coyote plays is also a commentary on how the Europeans tricked the Native Peoples, and Coyote uses the European methods against the Europeans. In King, Coyote bridges different realities, and plays a permanent role throughout the novel in his dialogue with the narrator. These dialogues provide an avenue that aims for truth while examining the First Nation’s character’s personal and cultural struggles. In many ways Coyote is very much the same character in both texts, although King’s version comes across a bit silly at times.  However god is portrayed very differently in King’s story, and instead of being benevolent, is in fact displayed as a negative, self-serving creature. In the beginning of King’s text, Coyote’s dream becomes sentient, and Coyote names his dream animal “dog” (King 2). Most likely because a dog is a lessor form of coyote. However, this dog, gets things backwards, reverses its name, and in the process believes he is in fact GOD. He claims, “I don’t want to be a little god … I want to be a big god!” (King 3).  This sets the stage throughout for how god is viewed, because King uses the Christian perspective of god and religion, and he uses this trope in a negative manner. Most likely this is a commentary on the Residential Schools, and the Christian treatment of First Nation’s children for over 100 years at these schools.


Works Cited

Chester, Blanca. “Green Grass, Running Water: Theorizing the World of the Novel.” Canadian literature 161/162 Summer/Autumn 1999. Web. 07 July 2016.

Conversations That Matter. “Truth & Reconciliation Reading Challenge.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube. 25 June 2016. Web 07 July 2016.

King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. New York: Bantam Books, 1994. Print

McNeilly Purcell, Linda.  “Chekamos River” 02 June 2016. Digital Image.

Robinson, Harry. Living by Stories: A Journey of Landscape and Memory. Compiled and edited by Wendy Wickwire. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2005.

Shultis, Elizabeth.  Subversion and the Storyteller: Exploring Spirituality and the Evolution of Traditional Narratives in Contemporary Native Literature in Canada. MA Thesis. McMaster University, Sept. 2011. Web. 07 July 2016.