The Status of Native Culture and Identity In Contemporary Society Depicted In Thomas King’s Borders

8 August 2016

Thomas King’s Borders, is a first person narrative designed to represent the continuing loss of identity experienced by the native population in contemporary North America. Borders tells the story of a native family living on a reservation located close to the Albertan-Montanan boarder in Western Canada. The protagonist of Borders is the unnamed mother of the family, who by refusing to properly state her nationality, is not allowed to cross the border with her young son. When asked to state her nationality by the border authorities, the mother answers “Blackfoot.

” This confuses the border guards, who are expecting the general answer of “American” or “Canadian. ” The mother refuses to generalize her ethnicity as distinctly American or Canadian, which results in the family’s inability to cross the border line. King draws on the use of satire in Borders to comically address the lack of identity attributed to natives in contemporary society. This essay will critically examine King’s work to showcase the function of figurative cultural borders in modern day society, as well as the concerning issue of native identity in the text.

The mother’s proud refusal to equate her racial background with citizenship, Laetita’s attitude toward her cultural identity as a Blackfoot in the text, and the treatment of the narrator and his mother by the border authorities: all illustrate the cultural and political position of King’s text. King showcases the loss of native’s unique cultural identity to the pressures of assimilation, while also providing a political commentary on the treatment of native peoples and native culture in contemporary North America.

As the protagonist of the text, the mother’s racial pride and stubbornness comes to the forefront in terms of thematic elements harboured in King’s work. The mother’s conservative attitude creates a significant tension in the introduction of the text. The narrator’s older sister named Laetita is moving across the border to Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City. Laetita is enamoured with the prospects of moving away from her family, while her Mother is noticeably unimpressed with the idea of her daughter living so far away from home. ““This is really lousy coffee.

” “You’re just angry because I want to see the world. ” “It’s the water. From here down, they got lousy water”” (King, 355). This passage showcases the mother’s negative views of America by King’s use of the word “lousy. ” “Lousy,” is used to describe the coffee the mother and Laetita purchased on the American side of the border. “From here down” refers to the mother’s opinion of American water being inferior to Canadian water. The mother’s negative attitude towards the American water is indicative of her connection to the simplistic nature of native culture.

While Laetita is attracted to the luxuriousness lifestyle of a big city, the Mother clearly advocates a more basic, ruralized setting reflective of native culture. The mother is clearly content with having simple necessities in her life, such as fresh tasting water, opposed to the more glamorous lifestyle Laetita that attracts her daughter. Laetita eventually moves to Salt Lake City and sends her family mail asking them to come visit her. An attempted trip to visit Laetita is thwarted by the mother’s inability to declare her official citizen at the border. ““Citizenship? ” ““Blackfoot,” my mother repeated.

“Canadian? ” “Blackfoot. ” It would have been easier if my mother had just said “Canadian” and been done with it, but I could see she wasn’t going to do that” (King, 357). The confrontation between the Mother and the border guards indicates a duality assiocated with the text’s title “Borders. ” For King, there are two distinct interpretations of the meaning of border in the story. One is the obvious physical border separating the territory between Canada and the U. S. ; while the other is a metaphorical border indicating a difference between an individual’s citizenship and racial identity.

The mother will not conform to identifying herself as Canadian or American, because she is content and proud of her ethnical identity as Blackfoot. The mother dismisses the concept of the physical border between the two countries. This is reflective in the opening lines of the story, where the narrator refers to the border between the U. S. and Canada to be nothing more than a “line” (King, 355). The mother feels no inclination to justify her ethnicity to the government. She is proud of her identity as a Blackfoot, and she feels as if she should be able to cross the imaginary border line as a Blackfoot, not as Canadian or American.

The mother represents traditional native culture, and the loss of native identity in contemporary society. Contrastingly, her daughter Laetita is representative of a significant decline in native culture throughout North America. Laetita’s attitude towards her Blackfoot heritage changes dramatically throughout the text. Laetita is not content with her life on the reserve; she decides to make a change in her surroundings and crosses the border into America. “It was kind of exciting…listening to Laetita read all about how Salt Lake City was one of the best places in the entire world.

“That Salt Lake place sounds too good to be true,” my mother told her. “It has everything. ” “We got everything right here. ” “It’s boring here”” (King, 358). The conflict in this passage between Laetita and her mother is indicative of the declining influence of native culture on younger generations. Laetita represents this decline, her pursuit of a new life in America shows her willingness to conform, something her mother intensely denies. The decline of native self-identity in the text is also evident in the last moments between Laetita and her mother, before Laetita leaves for Salt Lake City.

““You can still see the mountain from here,” my mother told Laetita in Blackfoot. “Lots of mountains in Salt Lake,” Laetita told her in English” (King, 356). Laetita speaks English while her mother speaks Blackfoot. This contrast accurately portrays the decline of native identity in the text. Laetita is leaving her ancestral home, and therefore discards her native dialect in favour of English, the only major language of the United States. The themes of King’s Borders provide insight to the declining status of native self-identity, as well as the submersion of native culture in contemporary society.

It is critical to recognize King’s position as a Cherokee native in relation to the themes of his narrative. The significance of Borders resides in King’s political commentary on the way in which Native Americans are identified and treated in today’s society. ““I know,” said the woman, “and I’d be proud of being Blackfoot if I were Blackfoot. But you have to be American or Canadian”” (King, 359). The Canadian border guard is portrayed by King as being more friendly and compassionate then the American guards. She shows compassion towards the mother for her stubbornness, and also clearly respects the mother for her racial pride.

This showcases the contrast in how Native Americans are viewed in Canada as opposed to America. In comparison, the American guards ignorantly addressed the situation, failing to recognize the Mother’s cultural integrity. The mother is incorrectly addressed as “Blackfeet” (357). This portrays the American image of “natives” to be negative. Instead of recognizing the Mother as a proud member of the Blackfoot community, the guard generalizes and pluralizes her identity. Government bureaucracy still reigns supreme, as the Canadian guard cannot let the mother pass the boarder without properly stating her citizenship.

“You have to be American or Canadian. ” The mother is finally granted passage to America as a Blackfoot, but only after much controversy and hardship. While her delay at the border was unnecessary, her strong claim to her native identity allows her to travel on her own terms as a proud Blackfoot native. King’s narrative is important to Canadian literature because it showcases the declining status of native identity in North America. Native culture is an integral part of Canadian history, and as a educated reader of this narrative, it is crucial to recognize the negative aspects of native treatment in contemporary society. Works Cited

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