For most of us, family has always been a safe space and a group of people you can always be yourself around and still maintain a sense of belonging no matter how different you might be. Well imagine being ripped apart from your family at a young and tender age and sent to live with complete strangers.
What consequences would it have on the child’s identity? Will the child feel the same sense of belonging? This novel explores some of the issues that surrounds kids in foster care as it talks about the life of Garnet Raven, a Native child who was taken from his family when he was two by child services and lived with foster care families. This shows the importance of belonging as in the novel Garnet took on many identities to fit in and even tries to hide being Native to avoid the negative stereotypes. Which is why I think that as humans we are social creatures and the sense of belonging and being part of something is the most important factor in someone’s identity.
The importance of family and belonging are especially true for Garnet as he was taken away from his family and culture and was placed in a completely different environment which resulted in him not knowing anything about his heritage and culture except for the negative stereotypes from movies. This has caused Garnet to change and hide his true cultural identity as he seeks a sense of belonging and he is scared that if people found out that he was Native they would shun him and he again will feel alone. The first closest thing to a family Garnet had was with Lonnie Flowers which he met because of their shared love of blues music. This is very important as Garnet has found people that accepted him and supported him like a family which is the sense of belonging that he was denied when he was taken. Lonnie has a big influence on Garnet’s identity as he starts to dress and act more like Lonnie. Another key point in Garnet’s life was after he was arrested and in jail he receives a letter from Stanley his brother and learns that he has a family that has been waiting for 20 years for him to come back.
This is a turning point as Garnet learns that his family has never given up on him coming back home and that there are people waiting for him and that he can finally go somewhere he might be able to truly belong. But at first when Garnet gets out of jail and visits the White dog reserve he was an outsider and didn’t feel like he belonged because of the big differences from his former life in Toronto. He was also made fun of because of how he dressed like he was black. He also didn’t know anything about Native culture and how the people lived. But even so when Garnet met his family and was introduced to his brother and sister they tell him what happened to his father and how he died and also tell him stories about their childhood before Garnet disappeared which really helps Garnet reconnect with them and feel the sense of belonging and being part of a family especially when he learns that his mother Alice would sing the song Bik ‘hee’ -yan which meant come home and made garnet feel like he was always wanted and not abandoned.
Garnet also learns more about his family and culture through the Keeper who becomes his guide and teaches him about traditional ways and spirituality which was important to Garnet as it is the first time he explores his true identity and spirituality. Garnet misses his former lifestyle and identity in Toronto but is torn apart because of his feelings of belonging he has in the reserve. Then when the radio was smashed in the reserve it gave Garnet the perfect chance to mix in a little bit of his former life in Toronto with the one in the reserve as he asks for a new radio station which introduces a bit of the outside world into the reserve which represents how both of Garnet’s outside identity and his Ojibway identity mixes in together and helps him balance his old way of life and his new helping him find that his true self and identity is neither his former life and experiences nor this one but a mixture of both and that is what makes him himself.
Also the people on the reserve at first wasn’t used to the new radio station but ended up liking it and accepting it as part of their lives which is exactly like how Garnet came into the reserve as a symbol of the outside world being introduced into the reservation and at first was an outsider but ended up gaining the respect and acceptance of the people much like the radio station. As shown throughout the novel Garnet was always seeking acceptance and the sense of belonging since the beginning travelling and roaming around trying to find himself and his identity. From when he was taken from his family and hiding his cultural identity, to meeting Lonnie and dressing and acting like him, he always did so to fit in with the others.
Up until he went back home to the reserve and found peace with being himself and pride in his culture which was represented by the eagle feathers given to him as symbols of his accomplishments in his journey of finding balance between his former life and new which has made him find himself and his true identity. And also, the name Jake which represents how the people on the reserve has accepted him as part of the community and that Garnet has finally found a place where he can belong and a real family who accepts him for who he is.