Importance of Traditions in Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me

Any relationship goes two ways to keep our life in balance, and also affect our life whichever of family or culture. As Bernice Weissbourd says: “Because it’s not only a child is inseparable from the family in which he lives, but that the lives of families are determined by the community in which they live and the cultural tradition from which they come.” In Keeper’n me, for instance, Garnet Raven who was taken away from his family to a series of white foster homes when he was three.

Garnet’s experiences as a result of the oppressive political and social policies.

Moreover, Keeper as a storyteller tries to pass the message of traditions and a way of life to guide Garnet, who arrived in White Dog reservation with anything but Native, to find himself. Finally, Garnet dealt with fitting in the life on the reservation and acceptance of people that around him by learning the Ojibway culture that Keeper taught him.

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Through setting, character development and symbols the author shows that there is more significance to our actions and emotions in finding a place to belong and a balance of life. Traditions which means a custom or belief that has existed for a long time, affect a person’s identity. The protagonist of story, Garnet, initially feels uneasiness and disconnected from his family and his culture.

Environment changes the way that he lives by taking him away from where he was born. When he first arrived at White Dog reservation, people laugh at him on account of dressing like a black man “ I had my Afro all picked out to about three feet around my head, mirrored shades, a balloon-sleeved yellow silk shirt with the long tapered collar, lime green baggy pants with the little cuffs and my hippest pair of platform shoes, all brown with silver spangles, and three gold chains around my neck” ( Wagamese 45).

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He's just like a tourist, not knowing what to do or what to be as an outsider in his culture. The society forces him to be someone else except Native. It reflects that he tries to fit into White world by being things that he is not because he was embarrassed to be Indian.

This quote also foreshadows that he will find a place to belong as far as staying on the reservation to keep in touch with his family and Native culture. During a positive lesson of Native culture, he starts to fit in the society and gets acceptance of people. His mom gives him the shirt that he had on the day he arrived at reserve to remind him of where he came from and how he wanted to be. Although his mom revamps the shirt that “ the sleeves were cut back regular, the long pointed collar was gone and the ribbons ran across the chest and back and down the arms” (Wagamese 301). He learns the traditional ways of Native and makes the connection with people, especially his family, and now he changes the way that he used to dressing. Everyone needs family in order to find themselves, no one could be his own person without knowing himself.

The surroundings compel Garnet to learn Whites instead of his own culture cause he lost connection and himself. Setting is one aspect of the culture that affect Garnet’s identity in social way. The setting of the book is very important in Garnet’s character development and personal growth. The relationship between Garnet and his family is detached because he was raised by foster homes instead of his family, that makes him a lot differences between him and Natives. When he returns to the reserve, he has lots of things need to learn, especially the traditional Native spiritual ways. At the beginning of the book, Garnet was trying to act others except Indian such as “Hawaiian, Polynesian, Mexican or Chinese” (Wagamese 19).

He felt lost in White society and tries to escape reality of being an Indian in respect that he doesn’t know how to be an Indian and never meet a “real” Indian until he back to the reservation. In this book, Keeper’s voice initiates the story that there is something to be learned about people, himself and his purpose. Keeper teaches Garnet the religious beliefs that helps him to find a balance in his life, and Garnet follows Keeper’s teaching to learn to become a storyteller that he will keep and teach Native traditions. Garnet follows the “Teachings. The blazes made by them that went before. The signs that mark the path we’re all supposed to follow. The path of the heart. The path of human beings. The red road” (Wagamese 305).

To Garnet regard the loss of culture and the old teachings should follow it in order to be at peace with nature and people around us. It shows Garnet that his culture is decline and that he has a chance to become a keeper to teach and bring back the traditions. It also realizes the benefits of learning the way of Ojibway and being connected to his culture. The religious beliefs give Garnet a good sense of spirituality that he finds a culture to belong and knows himself about what he desires to be and how to do it. The character development is one aspect of learnings that affect Garnet’s identity in spiritual ways.

The setting and character development that Garnet experiences in the story help reveal the powerful symbolism and themes. The drum symbolizes the connection of traditions and the traditional Native culture’s theme of respect. When Garnet first time to play the drum and tries to sing songs follow the beat, “The beat got all scattered and the song fell apart on its own” (Wagamese 135). He tries to feel drum and sing songs as an Indian but still have more white and black inside him that affect him more than Indian. It reflect that his emotions are confused just like he starts to play the drum but when he attempts to sing songs at the same time, he lost the rhythm. He doesn’t find a balance of playing drum and singing songs as well as he doesn’t find a balance of his life to fit in Native culture.

This quote also foreshadows that he will learn the importance of drum in Native traditional teachings as a value of how it interacts with others. Drum is symbolic of how sacred and old their culture is. As Keeper said in the book, “The drum’s the heartbeat of Mother Earth” (Wagamese 163). Keeper was explaining how the land is an integral part of Native identity and how he feels the heartbeat of mother earth when he plays the drum. It is a connection to traditions and culture that remind Indian of simplicity kept them alive through everything and help them live in balance with the whole world.

Drum also as a representation of female womb and the beating of the drum is like the beating of mother’s heart and represent the heart of the land. You treat a drum with respect as you’d treat your mom with respect. The values of traditions teach Garnet that finds a balance of his life and respect others especially mother. The symbol also is one aspect of Native culture that affect Garnet’s identity in emotional ways. Keeper’n me is a view of positive way in Natives’ life by teaching Garnet traditions, traditions affect Garnet’s identities. White society separates Garnet from his family on the reservation causes that he lost connection and place to belong. The values of environment views influence on Garnet’s social identity.

Based on the setting, character development shows how Garnet felt lost and no beliefs at beginning, but during learning religious beliefs he feels connective and finds himself where he should be. The religious beliefs impact on Garnet’s spiritual identity. Ultimately, the symbol of drum highlights the significances of Native traditions and respect that helps Garnet finds balance of his life. The values of one interacts with others that teaches traditional ways affect Garnet’s emotional identity. Traditions are the most important part of our life, it shows acts, thoughts and influence of identity in our lives.

Updated: Apr 12, 2021
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Importance of Traditions in Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me. (2017, Feb 22). Retrieved from

Importance of Traditions in Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me essay
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