What does it mean to be “Indian” in North America? This is the question that Thomas King looks at it in his book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. Serious and funny, history and anecdote, this is a timely and important book that will open readers eyes to the narrative of the history of the continent.
The relationship between Natives and non-Natives has been going on for centuries and the entire time has been fraught with difficulties and misunderstandings. There is a lot that the history books have either misinformed or omitted completely when it comes to the history of Native peoples in North America. And this has led to a complete lack of understanding in our present day lives. To counter this, King takes a look at historical events and figures, politics and pop culture, to create an account that isn’t easy, but must be read.
The history of the First Nations people in North America is longer and richer than any one book can capture. And King takes this into account right from the beginning of the book. He starts out by saying that the book is his own approach to it, is very personal, and is what he thinks needs to be said to give readers the beginning of an understanding. And that is exactly what this book did for me - it made me begin to understand, not the history of Native peoples but why it is important for me to learn so much more than what my history books taught me in school.
There is so much in this book to discuss. What I found most fascinating was the differences between the history in the US and Canada. It was interesting to look at when things were happening in one country compared to the other and to see where paths crossed and diverged. The discussion of the way Native culture intersects with Hollywood was also interesting to read. But most importantly for me was learning about what really happened in our countries history. In school you would learn about which treaty was signed when and for what, but this book shows you the effect the treaties had on the people who signed and the intentions behind them. In other words, the real story.
The history of Native peoples in North America is one that is brutal, cruel, and downright wrong. And yet, King writes it in a way that can be called entertaining if it weren’t about the destruction of a people by another. It’s by no means a feel-good book, it’s very uncomfortable, and it leaves your world-view shaken up. But you finish the book knowing that you had to read it, that you need to know this.
As King himself mentions, this isn’t a history but an account. To call it a history implies it’s going to be some sort of academic tome which it is not. King is a story-teller and that is what you get here. The story of a people whose voices aren’t heard enough. Too much of the history of Native people in North America is told by voices that aren’t their own, and I hope that this book changes that and paves the way for more of this. Engaging and accessible, this book should be mandatory reading in all history classes, not the other stuff.
(With only one other book from the list to read, this right now is my choice for winner of Canada Reads 2015.)