Keeper’n Me by Richard Wagamese is the story of Garnet Raven, a three-year-old Ojibway boy. Taken from his reserve and put in foster care, Garnet is isolated from his family and culture and becomes ashamed of his roots. At sixteen, after a lifetime of bouncing around foster care, he leaves on his own. He hitchhikes for four years and eventually ends up on the streets of Toronto.
While serving a sentence for dealing drugs, Garnet receives a surprise letter from his brother, Stanley, who he has not heard from for years. In the letter, Stanley invites him to come home. After his discharge, Garnet decides to return to White Dog Reserve and reunite with his family. Here, Garnet begins a journey to find his identity with the help of the friends and family he meets—especially a man named Keeper.
At White Dog Reserve, Keeper is viewed as the town drunk and nothing more, but it is soon revealed he was once the disciple of Garnet’s grandfather. When his mentor passed away, it broke Keeper’s heart. He struggled with alcoholism and didn’t stop drinking until Garnet arrived at the reserve. Garnet’s presence motivates him to sober up.
Colonization displaced First Peoples from their land, culture, and family. In Keeper’n Me, however, Keeper shares the Ojibway songs, dances, and traditions he learned from Garnet’s grandfather. With a personal connection to his culture, Garnet is able to find and embrace his identity. He becomes proud to be Ojibway.
Garnet searched for a place to belong for over twenty-two years, yet home had been waiting for him all along at White Dog Reserve. There is a clear message in Keeper’n Me: what you are searching for might already be waiting for you, you just have to find it.
Wagamese’s use of oral storytelling and the Ojibway medicine wheel are at the core of Keeper’n Me. The book is extremely entertaining as the reader follows Garnet’s spiritual journey, and Wagemese, with his poignant voice, interweaves humour in the least expected ways.
In A Dictionary of Human Geography, identity is defined as “what people say and write, their cultural tastes, how they dress, and their material possessions, the activities they take part in, and the other people with whom they associate, and groups to which they belong.” Without culture, there is no identity.