In Green Grass, Running Water, what does Eli Stands Alone’s character tell us about the relationship between the Indigenous communities and Europeans?

In Green Grass, Running Water, Eli Stands Alone reflects an intricate, vacillating relationship between Indigenous people and the West and Europe. At first, Eli appears to embrace European culture. He writes books on William Shakespeare and Francis Bacon. Later, Eli’s relationship to Europe and white culture sours. He antagonizes the hegemonic West by protesting the dam.

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A close reading of Eli Stands Alone’s character will probably reveal a vacillating, intricate relationship between Indigenous communities, Europeans, and white, Western hegemony in general.

At first, it appears that Eli finds refuge in European culture. It was as if he assimilated into the group that brought manifold death and destruction to Indigenous people. His scholarship of prominent European authors—he wrote a book on William Shakespeare and another one Francis Bacon—suggests that Eli identifies more with European, Western culture than with Indigenous values. His break from his Indigenous background and his embrace of a normative Western way of life could be symbolized by his departure from the reservation and his choice to pursue a PhD and live in cosmopolitan Toronto.

However, Eli’s relationship with Europeans and the West does not last. Once his wife dies, Eli returns to the reservation and begins to protest the building of a dam. Remember, Eli’s wife was white. It could be argued that the death of his white wife prompts the end of his more or less cordial relationship with white, European culture. Now, Eli’s relationship with Western/Europe hegemony is one of antagonism. He is actively trying to thwart the imputed advances of Western, European modernity.

At one point, Eli acknowledges that his resistance to the dam won’t amount to much. He has no “doubt that they would find a way to maneuver around him.” This seems to suggest that Indigenous people’s relationship to Europe and white hegemony is futile. They can resist and protest all they want, but in the end, the white world will figure out how to get their way.

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