How can a Native minority hold on to their heritage when they are thrust into a majority white society, ignorant to their values? The author of Green Grass Running Water, Thomas King, examines this question is his eye-opening novel. By the cleaver way he sculpts his novel and the unique plot lines, he seems to leave the answer to the readers interpretation. Consequently, I found it a struggle to come up with any concrete answer. Maybe because their isn’t one, and if there is I am not the most qualified person to pass judgment. I have never had to compromise my culture, because I am part of the cultural mainstream. I am an English speaking, American born, white male with very loose ties to my Jewish faith, thus I have had to adjust very little to function successfully in society. Because of this, the best I can do is “attempt” to identify with the Native characters in G.G.R.W. Also an analysis of the term “success” is important before reaching any conclusions. What is Thomas King trying to say?

Some of the material in the novel sways towards the side that a Native can’t be successful(by white standards) without seriously compromising their minority culture. In the plot line involving Charlie Looking Bear and his father Portland this argument is supported. Charlie is the Blackfoot Indian that is hired right out of law school to represent Duplessis International Associates. Duplessis is attempting to continue construction of a dam on an Indian reserve. From this comfortable case, Charlie becomes wealthy enough to buy extravagant luxuries, like a red Porche. He is by many standards, successful. The evident problem with his method of success is that he achieved success by fighting against his own tribe. To further this notion, take a look at the story of Charlie’s father, Portland. Wanting to be an actor, Portland goes to Hollywood(first time). He is fully aware that the only acting jobs he can get are in Western movies. He usually attracts roles where he plays the token stereotypical Indian, the “scalping savage” who without a doubt gets killed by the end of the movie. He seems to have lost his Native identity. He has to move away from the reserve, away from his peoples, to travel to Hollywood in order to become successful. Furthermore, he has to propagate the stereotype of Indian people (i.e. wearing the fake nose), prolonging societies ignorance of real Native culture. In both Charlie and Portland’s situation, not only do they have to personally sacrifice their culture to get the success they desire, but they also have to indict the already struggling Native lifestyle as a whole.

On the contrary side of the argument, “success” is a very ambiguous term. No all-encompassing definition of success exists. Therefore, it would be naive to say that all cultures have the same out-look on success. The Capitalism of the United States and to a lesser extent Canada, leads me to believe that the white North American concept of success is based purely on money. I agree that it is wrong to judge the success of the Native characters in the novel solely by this standard. If you look at the character Eli, who is by no means monetarily rich, he could in some ways, be considered successful. He went to university; he has the qualifications to become a successful member of the majority society (university professor), yet he decides to live on the reserve. He made a discission based on his cultural values not on the values imposed on him by the majority white society. He was successful in his own mind because he was doing what he wanted. In his mind he wasn’t giving up much, if anything at all. As well, the entire situation with Portland isn’t as simple as it seems either. Maybe it is possible to achieve success and keep you culture after all? At the end of the novel when he become a celebrity for the second time, it is in a more culturally respective fashion. He no longer wears the ridiculous plastic nose, and is a celebrity in a society that allows westerns movies to have endings where the Natives win (thanks to the four Indian elders). On the other