Green Grass Running Water


Coming Home

In many Native American cultures, ceremonies of sacrifice and renewal are an annual activity used to promote community and individual well being. In the novel Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King suggests that when one is able to fully accept one's own self and/or cultural traditions, a renewal celebration or regeneration of the spirit may give the individual's life direction or guidance in previously misguided areas. The Native American Sun Dance is a celebration where the sacrifice of past difficulties and misdirected ideals and/or paths may cause the participants to gain strength and understanding in their lives . This is also a time to celebrate how the world was once created and to insure harmony between all living things. Thomas King proves this thesis using the characters Alberta, and Lionel.
Alberta Frank is a Native American woman teaching native studies to a small group of "white" students at the University of Calgary. This Native American woman is lecturing on the "destruction aimed at . . . reservations," a topic integral to her life, and one from which a great deal of passion should be generated. However, her uninspiring and spiritless lesson causes "certain individuals" to "fall asleep," sit "virtually in each other's laps," and enter into a private "conversation." Indirectly her lecture touches upon an important religious celebration of the Native American culture, the Sun Dance. She depicts the Sun Dance, which celebrates the creation of earth and all of its components, as a trivial and meaningless component of her people's culture. Even though she portrays such a momentous occasion as inconsequential, its inclusion in her lecture is an unconscious admission to herself of how her own desire for inner peace can be realized through this cultural celebration. Alberta closes her lecture by wishing her class a good long weekend, then departs for "home."
Alberta is discontent with her relationships and herself. She is dating two men, Lionel and Charlie. When either starts "talking commitment," or begins "hinting about spending more time together," she avoids them for "two or three weekends in a row." Alberta's reaction to her possible pregnancy is "I'm not pregnant." Therefore, it is with escape from commitment and responsibility in mind that Alberta decides to go home to the reservation for the weekend. Even though she professes that she is going for "Lionel's birthday," she is in actuality going home to once again avoid having to relinquish a part of herself by surrendering to Charlie's desire for commitment. It is only by chance that Alberta is returning home to her original community at the time of the Sun Dance.
Alberta recognizes within her a desire to start and raise a family. She begins to see a need to "swallow her fears" and accept what she can accomplish out of life. To do this, she will need the help of friends and family. To accept help from others she will need to forgo her fear of commitment, accept certain parts of herself and her culture, because after all "Family's a great thing." To acknowledge this pregnancy Alberta would be making an important sacrifice, she would be giving up a part of herself for another human being. Alberta's -acceptance of herself leads her to decide to "come along" to the Sun Dance. Here she is able to cleanse and redeem her past and consequently empower and bless the future. The dance is not only for the empowerment and self -transcendence of the individual in need of self-redemption, but also for the well being of family, community, planet and life in general.
Lionel is a Native American who "had made only three mistakes in his entire life, the kinds of mistakes that seem small enough at the time, but somehow get out of hand. The kinds that stay with you for a long time. And he could name each one." Throughout his life, Lionel allows these simple yet powerful mistakes to govern himself and his opinions. Each mistake demonstrates how Lionel has always denied his own self by trying to become someone he isn't. The first mistake occurred when he agreed that he "must be the lucky young man who won the free plane ride." Rather than admitting he wasn't he said "That's me . . .When do we go?"
As a university student who is working for the "Department of Indian Affairs," and