3.7 : Familiar Guests at the Dead Dog Café

In Thomas King’s novel Green Grass Running Water allusions to historic events and figures, pop culture, and different forms of literature are used to expand the reader’s possibilities for deeper understanding. The novel is still enjoyable if it is not read with the intention of catching all the allusions and puns that King includes however it is a rewarding experience to read a novel that challenges the reader to think more deeply and critically about the written words.

For this assignment I have chosen to analyze the interaction between Latisha and the Canadian tourists in the Dead Dog Café. Although their exchange is brief, lasting only from pages 156 to 169, King has left many hidden Easter eggs for the reader to find, making the chapter a very interesting one.

As Jane Flick notes in her reference guide, all of the tourists who we are introduced to by name are incarnations of past Canadian writers who all have some ties to Indian themes. Flick also notes that all of these figures are known for having exploited “Indianness” for the purposes of their work (154). The writers who we meet in the Dead Dog Cafe are Polly (Pauline) Johnson, Sue (Susanna) Moodie, Archibald Belaney, and John Richardson.

King first introduces the readers to these characters as they exit their tour bus and walk all together into the restaurant. While it appears that the tourists are in good spirits, Latisha and her restaurant staff seem to not enjoy the tourists as much, as can be gained from the chef Billy’s comment – “not Canadian, I hope” (155).

I interpreted the fact that the tourists are all wearing name tags, and are traveling together as possibly being a group on a writers retreat or a research trip for their work. The purpose of their trip is never made explicitly clear, although Sue states that they are “on an adventure,” and Archie’s comment that they are “roughing it” can be read as a direct reference to the title of Susanna Moodie’s famous book Roughing it in the Bush. However it is Archie who says to Latisha “what we really want to see are the Indians” (158).

I think this is King’s way of critiquing the works of the historical figures these characters represent, as all of them are known for exploiting native culture to benefit their writing. Thus we can assume that the research conducted by these past writers for their works, is not far off from the bright and cheery tourists at the Dead Dog Café who make it clear they are looking for an “authentic” Indian experience.

Research on any of the writers who the tourists allude to shows that their works rely on stereotypical Indian themes like the “Indian Maiden”, and the “Noble Savage”. Their works show a clear example of characterizing Indians to suit white audiences.

Archibald Belaney was known for the fraudulent Native identity he chose for himself “Grey Owl” to support his work as a conservationist writer, although he was British and had no Native background. King’s version of Archie is critiqued for this when Polly points out that Archie is from England “but he’s been here for so long he thinks he’s Canadian too” (158).

Original title:  Major John Richardson. 

John Richardson was an author known for drawing on the themes of the noble savage, particularly in his 1832 novel Wacousta in which an Englishman transforms himself into a “savage” named Wacousta.


Susanna Moodie’s famous book Roughing it in the Bush, although seeming like a romantic piece meant to inspire sentiments of Canadian nationalism, is actually riddled with racist undertones for relying on the portrayal of Indians as “noble savages”.

Pauline Johnson, who was a Canadian poet of Mohawk and British heritage was known for exploiting her Native heritage to boost her popularity as a poet. This is referenced in King’s chapter when Sue mentions to Latisha that “Polly here is part Indian” (158). Johnson experienced a very privileged upbringing that was more informed by her British heritage, yet she is most known for reading her poetry in traditional buckskin dresses with feathers in her hair, and signing her poems with the name Tekahionwake to emphasize her Native Heritage.

Although Johnson’s Native heritage can be contested, because of the way her poems catered to a white audience, she was also known for writing critically about stereotypes and the challenging circumstances Native people faced in her 1893 short story A Red Girl’s Reasoning. When Polly says to Latisha “its alright, dear, not many people do” (158) when Latisha admits to never having heard of her book, is a reference to the fact that Pauline Johnson’s short stories and books never achieved as much popularity as her poetry.

Further, I think the $20 tip that Polly leaves under the copy of her book The Shagganappi (a book of short stories by Johnson, published after her death in 1913) shows that Polly has a certain level respect for Latisha that is greater than her companions. While the rest leave without supporting the restaurant and don’t purchase any menus (probably due to a perceived lack of authenticity) Polly leaves a more generous tip.

Reading about the works of these writers who the characters in King’s novel represent, I think it is ironic that all of them have claimed either directly or indirectly in their work to be enthusiasts of Native culture, yet as we see with Latisha and her restaurant staff’s reaction to the tourists, they are often quite ignorant. I think this exchange in King’s novel, however brief, is very powerful. By presenting these figures as naive tourists, he is decolonizing a Canadian literary canon that has been built on false and stereotypical representation of Native culture.

Works Cited

Flick, Jane “Reading Notes for Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water“. Toronto, Harper Collins, 1994. Web. July 31 2016.

Grey Owl. n.d. Archives of Ontario. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Photograph. Web. July 31 2016.

“Indian Maiden”. TV Tropes. n.p . n.d. Web. July 31 2016.

Johnson, Pauline. “A Red Girl’s Reasoning”. The Mocassin Maker, 1893. Canadian Poetry Press. Web. July 31 2016.

King, Thomas. Green Grass Running Water. Toronto, Harper Collins, 1993. Print.

Macbride, Craig. “CanLit Canon Review #1 : Susanna Moodie’s Roughing it in the Bush”. The Toronto Review of Books. December 7 2011. Web. July 31 2016.

Lock, W. Fredrick. Major John Robinson. 1902. Print. Library and Archives Canada. Web. July 31 2016.

“Noble Savage”. TV Tropes. n.p . n.d. Web. July 31 2016.

“Pauline Johnson”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. n.p. n.d. Web. July 31 2016.

Pauline E. Johnson. McMaster University Library and Archives. Photograph. Web. July 31 2016.

Onyanga-Omara, Jane. “Grey Owl: Canada’s Great Conservationist and Imposter”. BBC News. September 19 2013. Web. July 31 2016.

Susanna Moodie. 1860. National Archives of Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Photograph. Web. July 31 2016.

3.5 : Comparing and Contrasting the Native Creation Story with the Biblical Creation Story

3. What are the major differences or similarities between the ethos of the creation story or stories you are familiar with and the story King tells in The Truth About Stories ?

I was raised in a Christian home so since I was old enough to attend Sunday school I’ve had the biblical creation story recounted to me more times than I can remember. As a child I accepted the creation story as truth, the way things came to be, how we came to be, and why there was good and evil in the world. However as I got older there were some things about this creation story that didn’t sit quite right with me. The question of whether the creation story is true or not aside, the fact that bothered me was that the story of “The Fall” following the creation story places blame for the existence of evil in the world on Eve, the woman.

You don’t have to look far back in history at all to see that women have blamed for a lot. From the middle ages with the witch hunts, today with so many unfortunate instances of women being victim blamed for sexual assault, and everything in between, before and after, points to a reality that women have been perceived as inferior to men. In many Eurocentric societies its not much of a leap to draw connections from the biblical creation story to the way women are treated.

And then, there is the Native creation story. A story that completely subverts the role of women and her role in the creation of the world. Rather than being responsible for bringing evil into the world and corruption it like Eve was, She, the Sky Woman is the creator! I perceive this to be the most significant difference between the Biblical creation story and the Native creation story. From this main difference stems many more, which are discussed by Thomas King in his 2003 talk “The Truth About Stories : A Native Narrative” for CBC’s Massey Lectures.

While I found that the role of women in each creation story is the contrast that stood out as a major difference, King discusses the difference between the hierarchies associated with biblical story, and the co-operative nature of the Native story. According to King the two creation stories are different because the creation of the world in one is a “solitary, individual act,” while the creation of the other is a “shared activity” (King 24-25). King contrasts these two stories and is quick to label them as a dichotomy. While I agree that the two stories can be greatly contrasted there are a few similarities that should not be over looked.

When I first considered the biblical and the Native creation stories side by side, I found that all I could see was differences rather than similarities, but after reading this great article by Brittany Kussman I found that there were actually a few similarities connecting these creation stories. In Kussman’s article she points out that all the similarities between the stories have not been considered much because for the early settlers in Canada, the idea that a Native creation story could be anything like a Christian one was unthinkable. However, she goes on to discuss the similarities; both have a concept of a pleasant sky world (Heaven) and a world that was originally covered in darkness and water below (the Earth). Both stories also have a clear concept of good and evil, with God and the devil in the Christian version and the “Evil Mind” and “Good Mind” in the Native version. Kussman notes that in the Native story, its the “Evil Mind” that creates all the dangers and terrible things in the world, and when viewing the Christian story through the lens of the Native story this explains why Eve was convinced to eat the forbidden fruit. I like this observation and this connection of both stories because it forces us to look at the woman’s role in the creation story in a different light. It seems to remove the blame from woman for the existence of evil in the world, and simply leaves the question of “evil” as something that is in the world to balance out “good”.

When considering both of these creation stories we can’t assume that one is better than the other, and the question of which is true or not is irrelevant because for the people who believe in these stories they are true. In my opinion however, since the biblical story has been privileged in our Canadian society over the Native one, I think its important for people to hear both stories and realize what good moral lessons can be learned from the Native version. Collaboration, co-operation and respect for women are all elements of the Native creation story that I liked. If you are familiar with both stories what do you think? Any similarities or differences that I missed?

– Natasha

Works Cited

Kaussman, Brittany, “Native American vs. Biblical Creation Stories”. Hubpages. April 17 2016. Web. July 18 2016.

King, Thomas, “The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative.” CBC Massey Lectures. CBC Ideas. Web. July 18 2016.

Linder, Douglas, “A Brief History of Witchcraft Persecutions Before Salem”. University of Missouri -Kansas. 2005. Web. July 18 2016.

“Rape Culture, Victim Blaming, and the Facts”. Southern Connecticut State University. n.a n.d. Web. July 18 2016.

3.2: A Constructed Canada

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.

It is uncomfortable coming to terms with the truth that the idea of Canadian nationalism is and always has been based on the exclusion of people who are not white. Myself identifying as a white Canadian girl, I get an uneasy feeling looking at documents like the CanLit guide, and the Indian Act, which I will later elaborate on in this post, and realizing that since its colonization Canada has been continuously constructed as a white persons country.

I use the word constructed, because there is no other word for how Canadian nationalism has developed over the centuries. As we read in this lecture with Daniel Coleman’s argument in his introduction to White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada, Canadian literature has been notoriously entrenched in the “British model of civility” (Coleman 5). As literature influences society and vice versa, it is easy to see how this model of British civility was held as the dominant model for Canadians to aspire to for so long, and how those who didn’t fit within this model were forced to assimilate.

The Indian Act of 1876 is a good example of this type of forced assimilation put into effect. Although it has gone through many amendments since it was initially passed the Indian Act’s purpose to assimilate First Nations peoples to a White Canadian model has more or less remained the same. Erin Hanson in her article for Indigenous Foundations succinctly describes the act as “a part of a long history of assimilation policies that intended to terminate the cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness of Aboriginal peoples by absorbing them into mainstream Canadian life and values” (Hanson n.p).

Laws under the Indian Act such as the banning of the Potlatch and Sundance, and imposing government structures on First Nations communities in the form of band councils were all effective in ensuring the erasure of First Nations’ culture. In the process of tearing down Aboriginal culture, these laws were also effective in the construction of a Canadian nationalism based on British civility.

Over time, and a few world wars later, the Indian Act began to change as white Canadians were beginning to realize that First Nations people were legitimate citizens of the country who deserved rights (wow! imagine that!), but there were still problems with it. The 1951 amendments allowed for certain changes to be made like the lifting of the Potlatch ban, however, the document was still highly oppressive in its nature. Again in 1969 there was an attempt to amend the act by Prime Minister Trudeau with his “White Paper” policy which proposed the abolition of the act and giving First Nations people status as regular Canadian citizens. This proposition was resisted by First Nations people due to the fact that it was an assimilationist policy in disguise as something progressive.

If you look closely at all the laws and policies that are connected to the Indian Act it is overwhelmingly clear that it is a very oppressive piece of legislation. Coleman points out the irony in how uncivilized it is to “forget” how oppressive legislation like the Indian Act is, in an effort to adhere to a supposed model of civility. Coleman’s concept of a “fictive ethnicity” that is the idea of a white Canada seems to go hand-in-hand with the Indian Act’s purpose of erasing any culture that could be a threat to this model.

One final thought – If you look how Canadian nationalism is being constructed today you can see that there really is nothing “British” or “civilized” about it, for the most part. Watch this video and see how the players have changed but the game stays the same. Although I found it hilarious, I couldn’t help but notice how overwhelmingly white it was, and yet it is meant to represent how all Canadians are! I know its a comedy piece and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but then again this is the kind of media that has a wide audience and can be easily circulated, so its important to be a little bit critical of what popular videos like this say about “Canadian culture” and who fits into its definition (and who doesn’t). But seriously, watch the video, you wont regret it.

– Natasha

Works Cited

CanLit Guides. “Reading and Writing in Canada, A Classroom Guide to Nationalism.” Canadian Literature. n.d. Web. July 7 2016.

Coleman, Daniel. White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada. U of Toronto, 2006. Web. July 7 2016.

Hanson, Erin. “The Indian Act”. Indigenous Foundations, UBC Arts. n.d. Web. July 7 2016.

IFHT Films. “How to be a Canadian”. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, June 30 2016. Web. July 7 2016.

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