Everyone receives guidance from the many people they encounter throughout life. Probably most people have also been a guide for someone else somewhere along the way. The concept of the guide in Richard Wagamese’s Keeper’n Me is more than just someone who gives guidance, its someone who also uses storytelling and the teaching of traditions to help guide.
Passing on traditions or a certain way of life is a very important aspect of guiding someone of the Ojibway culture in this novel. The Ojibway people have such strong beliefs and because of that they take their culture very seriously. At the same time they are very protective of their culture because they see it slowly shifting over into the culture of “white” society making new generations of Indians less interested in learning and living in the traditional Ojibway lifestyle. These younger generations of Indians need to be guided by their elders in order to keep that traditional culture alive. This creates a connection with their family and their ancestors and inspires them to become guides as well.
Dreams are, in a sense, also a guide in Ojibway culture. They believe that through their dreams they receive visions that are “sent to them by the spirit world. That vision could be just about anything and was meant to be a sacred and private thing for the seeker. Gave a direction for their life.” (175). They believe that you should try to figure out your dreams as best as you can because they are important messages that give you “direction and strength” (175).
The Ojibway look to prayer to guide them and help them to be a better people. When they pray they wave smoke from burnt cedar and moss over their body. This is called smudging. In the novel, Keeper shows Garnet how to smudge to teach him that “when we smudge (everyday) we’re purifying ourselves our mind, body, spirit, and emotion. Get centered and positive so we can all live good” (176).
They also pray with tobacco offerings. These offerings are “the way we prepare (Ojibways) for learnin’ more you go out there an’ pray your own prayers for your own lessons in life” (180). This teaches them to have respect and to be grateful, guiding them to be better people.
Besides daily praying, Ojibways have to practice “being Indian” everyday to be a good guide. According to Keeper you “gotta know why you dance ’steada just how. Sing and dance forever but if you’re not practicin’ tradition day by day you’re not really bein’ Indyun” (38). Indians cannot just go to ceremonies and do other cultural things and say that because they do this they are true Indians. Anyone can do that. To be a true Indian, they first have to be taught about their culture before they can participate in it. That is what a good guide tries to teach. They need to learn “the why of this life instead of just the how” (213). Even guides still learn how to be a better one each day from others or even from someone their guiding in the case of Keeper and Garnet.
A guide tries to help a person to become a good human. He or she learns to be a good person, which leads to becoming a good Indian with a pure Indian heart. Keeper says “Nothin’ in this world ever grew from the outside in .(Garnet) learned about bein’ Indyun, about himself that way he’ll survive anything” (39). Once that person has a pure Indian heart they in turn are ready to guide someone else. In the novel Lazarus, the oldest Indian still living there, guided Garnet’s grandfather Harold Raven who taught Keeper who in turn helped guide Garnet back to his Indian heart.
Storytelling is the most popular way to give guidance among the Ojibway people in this novel. It is used to teach lessons and morals, it guides and directs you and it can be true, symbolic or fictional. Storytellers are very important because they have the talent to pass on history whether it be family history or world history. It teaches you about life and the lives of people before you. Guidance is provided in stories so that people will listen and remember because they are being entertained at the same time. Stories are often told around a fire where the family gathers around in a circle to spend time together by sharing their stories. A lot of Indians follow this oral tradition because they cannot read or write well and because it is the oldest and most traditional way of re-telling history for them. It makes it much easier to follow and remember. Garnet discusses the “red road” in the final chapter of Keeper’n Me. He describes “true” guides as “[the] people who search the sky for magic. The dreamers. The believers. The ones who know that power lives in the things we see’n here’n wonder about. The ones who come to stand upon the land and search for stories. Teachings. The blazes made by them that went before. The signs that mark the path we’re all supposed to follow” (212). These people have become guides because they have traveled the red road and have gotten to the end of it.
Lazarus taught him that there is seven directions in life forming a circle which is the red road. Each direction they travel in they become more in touch with everything around them. North is wisdom. East is light and knowledge. South is innocence and trust. West is growth and inwardness. Then there are the three that “make the road so tough to travel” (212). They are up and down which is “the motion of life. The day-by-day things we get so hung up on all the time”, and inside is the final road and it is the road to truth.
Ojibways believe that everyone travels this red road in life and everyone gets there at a different time in their life some young and some even old. Once you have traveled this road you can be a good guide for others who are still travelling.
In conclusion, there are many things that make up being a good guide and it takes a lot of work and a lot of time to get to that point. Wagamese does an excellent job at covering the many aspect of being a guide and becoming a guide.