48 pages 1 hour read

Richard Wagamese

Keeper'n Me

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1994

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Summary and Study Guide


Keeper’n Me is a novel by Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese, first published in 1994. A postcolonial story about the quest for self-discovery, the narrative follows Garnet Raven, an Ojibwe man who was abducted as a child by Canadian authorities and raised in foster care. His family locates him 20 years later, and Garnet returns home in the White Dog reserve to rediscover his history, his culture, and himself.

Richard Wagamese was a prominent author and journalist from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. Many of his stories reflect his own experiences as an Indigenous man. Wagamese was raised in foster homes and sought to reconnect with his Indigenous culture as a young adult.

This guide refers to the 2005 Anchor Canada e-book edition.

Content Warning: This guide describes and analyzes the source text’s treatment of racism, colonialism, and alcohol addiction. The source text includes prejudicial terminology for Indigenous people, which this guide replicates in direct quotations only. In addition, the Background section of this guide references death by suicide.

Plot Summary

Garnet Raven, the protagonist, relates his quest for identity in the first person. His story intertwines with the narration of Keeper, an Ojibwe elder, also in the first person.

Garnet was abducted from his home by the Children’s Aid Society when he was three years old along with his brothers and sister. His siblings stayed together, but he was taken away and put in foster homes alone. Garnet never felt welcome by his foster families. Growing up in white households, Garnet lost all connection with his roots and felt lost. At 16, Garnet leaves his foster home and wanders in city streets.

In Toronto, Garnet meets Lonnie Flowers, a Black man whose friendliness makes Garnet feel less alone. Lonnie’s family welcomes Garnet, and Garnet feels at home for the first time and adopts a Black style.

Garnet is arrested carrying another man’s drugs and remains in prison for three years. Before his release, he receives a letter from his brother, Stanley Raven. Stanley explains that the family has been searching for him and invites him to return home. Garnet feels nervous, as he does not know anything about his family and the life of his nation, but he eventually decides to return.

Garnet, now 25 years old, returns to the White Dog reserve and finds Stanley. At Stanley’s cabin, Garnet is greeted by his sister, Jane, and meets his uncles, aunties, the Chief, and Keeper. He wonders where his mother and his other brother, Jackie, are. Garnet still feels lost. He talks with Stanley and Jane, who recall childhood memories, telling him that he is welcome in the community and they want him to stay. They also tell him that his mother always believed that he would return home.

The next morning, Garnet reunites with his mother, Alice, but Jackie remains distant. Gradually, Garnet and Alice discuss the family’s history and trauma after the children’s abduction. Alice explains that Garnet’s father, John Mukwa, never forgave himself for losing them and left home to live alone in a cabin until his death. Jane looked for her mother, and the siblings remained in touch with her until their return.

After some time in the reserve, Keeper invites Garnet to his cabin and unfolds his story. Keeper recently recovered from alcohol addiction and reveals that Garnet’s grandfather, Harold, was a traditional teacher for him. Keeper assumes the role of the guide for Garnet and simultaneously says that Garnet is also a guide for him. The two men have a lot in common.

Throughout the story, Keeper’s narration is part of the teachings that he offers to Garnet as a man who managed to heal his trauma and reconnect with his culture. He instills in Garnet the importance of Anishinaabe worldview, their land, and the connection with nature, and he guides him to discover his own self and humanity as an Indigenous man.

Gradually, with Keeper’s guidance, Garnet reconnects with his environment and Ojibwe roots. He still wonders about Jackie’s silence. Stanley and Jane say that Jackie was affected by their father’s death and remains angry over the unjust treatment of Indigenous people. Following Keeper’s advice, Garnet reconnects with Jackie while playing hockey. Jackie tells Garnet that he is still traumatized by Garnet’s abduction and hates everything about white people.

Keeper explains that a major goal for humans is to find balance in the world. Garnet begins to connect and becomes more attuned with the Ojibwe community. What helps Garnet to feel calm is being on the lake. He often takes his boat and heads to the lake alone. There, Garnet learns how to pray and develop a connection with the land, making him feel whole. He goes to his father’s old cabin to find only remnants. He remains there for four days, praying, fasting, and having a dream of two eagles. Later, he finds two eagle feathers on a tree. Keeper had the same dream in the past. Garnet returns home revived.

In the end, the tribe organizes a feast to honor Garnet’s change, establishing his return home and his reconnection with the tribe and culture. Keeper tells him to keep the eagle feathers and remember his dream as a teaching. At the end of his journey, Garnet feels like a whole human being. He feels that he has a good guide and he continues learning and spending time with Keeper, who urges him to become a storyteller and talk about the reality of Indigenous peoples.

Related Titles

By Richard Wagamese