The Lost Identity: Indians influenced by White Culture


Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King is a unique book which focuses on the various stereotypes of Indians. To endeavor to place Indians at the same level as whites, King takes apart classical and biblical stories, only to rebuild them with the incorporation of Indian culture. By doing so, he shows how Indians are no lesser beings than any other human beings and also wittingly satirizes the American culture. In Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King proves how technology, religion, and pop culture influence Indians, causing for them to lose their identity and become inferior to whites.


Technology is visible in the Indians' lives, which results in their losing of identity because they are slowly falling away from old Indian customs. From the beginning of the book, machinery is noticeable in the Indians' lives. For instance, Lionel and his aunt Norma are traveling in an automobile to go to the Sun Dance, a traditional event for Indians. They use such machines, showing that signs of technology are apparent in Indian life, and yet, at the same time, they still follow traditional customs like the Sun Dance. Because of this, the Indians are living in two worlds: the modern world of technology and the old traditional world. Thus, they struggle with their identity as an Indian. For example, Eli Stands Alone seemed to have an identity crisis. Growing up on the reserve, he was surrounded by Indians who followed tradition, such as Norma; however, when he was old enough, Eli "wanted to be a white man" (36). He was struggling with his identity because he felt that the two worlds could never merge. If Eli acquired an occupation in the world outside of the reserve, he was considered white by people such as Clifford Sifton; if Eli remained at the reserve, he was regarded as a true Indian. There was no gray line where Eli could have a profession in the white world and still be Indian. "'Besides, you guys aren't real Indians anyway. I mean, you drive cars, watch television, go to hockey games. Look at you. You're a university professor'" (155). Sifton naturally assumed that by having professions in a white-dominant world and living with technology transformed Eli into a white person. However, in the end, Eli realizes that "he had become what he had always been. An Indian¡¦ an Indian back on the reserve" (289). Living in the world of technology does not change who Eli is, and he learns that he cannot erase his past as an Indian, stereotyped as a lesser being.e Lionel is also confused about his identity. He, like his uncle Eli, desires to become white and is greatly influenced by its culture. "¡¦[Norma] would sometimes think [Lionel] w[as] white. [He] sound[s] just like those politicians in Edmonton. Always telling us what we can't do" (7-8). Norma reprimands her nephew for becoming too involved with white culture because she knows that he is an Indian and cannot change who he is, yet Lionel does not recognize this fact. As a salesperson at Bill Bursum's Home Entertainment Barn, he is constantly exposed to technology and its wonders. Once again, the world of technology and the traditional world cannot seem to come together because Lionel, while exposed to technology, is distant with his family. Lionel seems to be ashamed of the old-fashioned ways of his family, and he is proud that he escaped the "old world" and entered the "better" world." When Lionel is given a job at Burnsum's store, he is actually quite happy. "For a long time, he stood there in the dark, smiling and swaying until the edges of his ears began to burn¡¦" (90). By accepting the job, it exemplifies how Lionel is willing to leave his past and become white, giving up his Indian identity along the way. He is willing to work beneath Bill Burnsum, causing Lionel to always be inferior to Burnsum. Indians, such as Lionel, seem to rather be inferior to whites than accept the old traditions of their culture. 're King combines religious figures in Christianity and Indian figures into stories to emphasize that Indians are not lesser than white men, but he also