“Doesn’t matter pickerel or wild rice there’s people here who don’t want us doing anything they just want us to shut up and stay on our reserves.” James Whetung, a wild rice harvester and a member of the Curve Lake First Nation tells the host, Ryan McMahon, this during a podcast.
The podcast, “Wild Rice Wars”, talks about the conflicts between cottagers and Indigenous people on harvesting wild rice. Pigeon Lake is a part of the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario, Canada, and it is a popular destination among cottagers. The wild rice on Pigeon Lake caused an uproar in cottage owners. They claimed that their shorelines are filled with the plant, and it makes boating, fishing, and various other activities difficult. This results in the drop of their lakefront property value. They have been protesting and are getting permits from the province to dredge the bottom of the lake to destroy wild rice beds. However, the Indigenous people have been using the rice for thousands of years, and aboriginal treaty rights allow them to harvest it.
For Anishinaabe people, wild rice has always been important to them, it acts as a food source and as a part of the economy. They have stories and songs about it. Whetung says harvesting the rice is just a part of a wider effort to revive the local indigenous culture that is undermined by colonization. The difference in values is evident. The cottage owners worries about materialistic matters, whereas the indigenous people care about cultural and spiritual matters. This causes conflicts to arise.
This idea is a key feature in Thomas King’s novel Green Grass, Running Water. This is visible in the creation stories, and the characters of George Morning Star, Latisha , Eli Stands Alone, and Clifford Sifton. Through the satirizing of biblical characters, the allegory of the relationship between George and Latisha, as well as building of the dam, Thomas King displays the idea of conflicts can arise from being ignorant to the values and traditions of others and showing oppression towards a minority.By combining Christian and Indigenous mythologies, it expresses the differences in the two cultures. Each of the creation stories starts off with an Indigenous character encountering christian characters.
In the first creation story, First Woman and Ahdamn lives in a garden, which represents the Garden of Eden. God becomes angry because he doesn’t want the others eating the food in the garden. However, First Woman believes that it is better to share the food with the others. In the podcast, James Whetung talks about how nature needs to be shared. By sharing the ecosystem, we are not only saving nature, but also ourselves. This disagreement in beliefs forces Ahdamn and First Woman to leave the garden. After leaving the garden, they encounter a group of rangers and is accused of violence because they are Indians, “It looks like the work of Indians, says those live rangers.
Yes, they all say together. It looks just like the work of Indians. And those rangers look at First Woman and Ahdamn” (70). First Woman then pretends to be the Lone Ranger and is left alone. Ironically, they are later captured by soldiers, “You are under arrest, says those soldiers. What’s the charge, says First Woman. Being Indian, says those soldiers” (72). This represents the stereotype of how Indians are inferior and are seen as criminals.
The second creation story talks about Changing Woman. Changing Woman falls out of the sky and encounters Noah. Noah becomes bewildered at Changing Woman’s actions, “Why are you talking to animals? says the little man.
This is a Christian ship. Animals don’t talk. We got rules” (145). Changing Woman is free spirited and does not believe in rules. As well, she does not want to mate with Noah. Noah’s desires of dominance and control ultimately created frustration, and as a result, he kicks Changing Woman off the ship, for not obeying Christian rules. This also demonstrates the idea of Women in Christian culture are seen less the men and are only valued for their appearance and ability to reproduce, whereas in Indigenous culture it is the opposite. This idea is also seen in the final creation story with Young Man Walking on Water and Old Woman.
Young Man Walking on Water was trying to save a group of men from the rocking of the boat but was unsuccessful. When Old Woman tries, she was able to calm down the wave and stopped the boat from rocking, proving her ability as a female figure. However, when the men heard it was a woman who saved them, they automatically credits Young Man Walking on Water. The difference in culture and beliefs caused the characters to not get along.George Morning Star is characterized as narrow minded, materialistic, and displays prejudice against Indigenous people and culture. He enjoys comparing Americans to Canadians, and it has become a trademark of his conversations.
He believes that Americans are better than Canadians, which displays patriotism. His constant comparison annoyed Latisha and makes her frustrated. He continues to express racist remarks towards Indigenous people and culture despite his wife being one. George’s name alludes to General Custer, an American cavalry officer that led his men in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
His abuse towards Latisha reflected with the actions of George Custer, where the Indigenous people faced massacre during the battle. His ignorance got him in a conflict with Lionel and Eli. He was taking pictures at the Sundance because he wanted to sell them for profit, completely disregarding the culture, “‘No law against it,’ said George.
‘What are you going to do, scalp me?'” (385). He thinks that Indigenous people are merely savages and only act with violence. The same applies to the conflict talked about in the podcast, “Residents say it’s not at all traditional” (Whetung). The cottagers says this although they know nothing about Indigenous culture and traditions. One year, George decided to stay home, look after the kids, and cook, even if he knows nothing about cooking. He kept on buying cooking equipments that he did not need and thinks it is going to be more convenient, but this is just a way to fulfil his materialistic values. When he realized that his way is not working out, he escapes from his family without a trace, this left Latisha angry and heartbroken. His materialistic values has eventually driven his marriage to end.
The dam acts as a symbol of white supremacy and oppression on Indigenous culture. By building the dam, it modernizes and holds back nature much like how the Canadian government tried to assimilate Indigenous people to white culture. But eventually the force of nature overcame the control of the dam. James Whetung says this during the podcast, “When I was a kid, I could look out across the lake and you might see the odd farm house across. When I look out on the lake today, the whole lake is filled with cottages” (Whetung).
This shows that urbanization has taken over nature, but by harvesting wild rice, the ecosystem can be slowly restored. Clifford Sifton is a worker for the company that builds the dam, and his job is to make Eli give up his cabin. He could never understand why Eli is so attached to it, since he thinks that Eli is not a real Indian, “‘I mean, you drive cars, watch television, go to hockey games. Look at you. You’re a university professor'” (141). Clifford has a preconceived idea of Indigenous people being old fashioned, yet Eli is not.
What Clifford does not know that the cabin was built by Eli’s mother and possess great meaning to him. It represents his cultural roots. According to Clifford, the problem is that the country does not have an Indian policy, but at the same time he does not believe in treaties, “‘Hell, Eli, those treaties aren’t worth a damn. Government only made them for convenience.
Who’d of guessed that there would still be Indians kicking around in the twentieth century'” (141). The treaties are just like the layers of an onion, once you have peeled off all the layers, there is nothing valuable left. In other words, the treaties are just ways for the Government to suppress the Indigenous culture. The treaty rights mean nothing, especially since they believed that the Indigenous people will all be assimilated by now.
To conclude, conflicts are caused by being ignorant to the values of others and showing oppression towards a minority. This idea can be tied to both the novel and the podcast. It is shown through the creation stories, the relationship between George and Latisha, and the dam. As well, it is shown through the conflict between the Anishinaabe people and cottage owners.