“See the important thing about our stories isn’t so much the listening, it’s the time you spend thinking about them. There’s lots of traditional thinking buried deep within each story and the longer you spend thinking about it the more you learn about yourself, your people and the Indian way”.
Canada lost a national treasure, a storyteller who infused his writing with his heart, his soul and his lived experiences. If you have not already enjoyed The Medicine Walk, Indian Horse, for Joshua, Ragged Company, One Native Life or Embers you have something to look forward to! The Medicine Walk is one of my most favourite books and although I never got to meet this storyteller, I am lucky to have a signed copy!
Of all of his books, I have to say that the Keeper’n Me is my least favourite. I had trouble staying focused while reading it. Perhaps, it was because this story was so close to his own life which I had already learned about in One Native Life or perhaps it was just the timing. Keeper’n Me was recommended by the VP at a local highschool where I spoke about blogging this past spring. I hope that he reads The Medicine Walk as I think that it would be a far more engaging read for students to enjoy!
Keeper’n Me told the tale of Garnet Raven, who, like Richard Wagamese was taken away from his family on the reserve to live in a series of foster homes, never finding a family, never feeling support and never understanding his roots. Garnet became homeless, abused substances and ended up in a jail where he worked on a farm (coincidentally Wagamese had spent time incarcerated at Burtch Jail which is on the outskirts of Brantford) before he got a letter from his family which changed his life.
Garnet moved back to the reserve, got to know his family, learned his heritage and spent time on the land. He was mentored by the Keeper, a friend of his late grandfather’s who helped him learn more about his people as he came to accept himself. It is hard to imagine the pain that this character (and Wagamese) felt as a child being torn away from his culture and how overwhelming it would be to be accepted back into his family, his community and learn his culture.
All works by Richard Wagamese need to be celebrated and readers should think of him when they read this passage taken from page 296 of Keeper’n Me:
“Stories get told about us when we’re gone. People feel the same way inside when they hear them stories as they felt when we were with ’em. Nice. Safe. Warm. loved. That’s how we stay alive forever. Make a good story of our life right here. People always gonna wanna tell it. Part of us gonna be alive in the hearts of our relatives years’n years from now”