Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 13th 2013 by Anchor Canada
“You know what they say. If at first you don’t succeed, try the same thing again. Sometimes the effort is called persistence and is the mark of a strong will. Sometimes it’s called perseveration and is a sign of immaturity. For an individual, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. For a government, such behavior is called… policy.”
I will freely admit that I am not as up to date on my knowledge of the First Nations communities both in Canada and United States as I should be considering I live on a land that belongs to them and that the history of the country I have adopted for my own contains the blood of their people.
Reading The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King was a tremendous experience. It was my introduction to King’s work and it was the first time I had read the history of the Indian in North America.
It is inevitable that you read and hear stuff about the “Indian” when you live here; the atrocities the First Nations suffered under the colonizing British, French, and whoever else thought they could assert authority in this ’empty’ country. I am never able to fathom the the mindset, the inflated ego, and entitlement of the British to come to a country that is not theirs and claim ownership of the land that is not theirs. That was never theirs. And when the natives protest their actions, they kill them.
Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian gives a history of the “Indians” in North America but what he wants you to realize is that “Indians” is a North American construct. “Indians” do not exist anywhere else apart from the minds of people who would reduce nations into easily categorized and simple units of existence. “Indians” do not exist but different Nations of people do, all of whom are individual populations with unique characteristics.
There are so many things brought up in The Inconvenient Indian that I had no idea about such as the fact that to be legally recognized as a Native of North America, a person has to skip through legal hoops. You can’t just be born in a particular tribe or Nation, no, you have to apply to be recognized as such. O.O; your very identity becomes a legal process.
One of the things I came away with after reading this book is that if I were of Native ancestry, I would be angry all the time. And with good reason.
“A great many people in North America believe that Canada and the United States, in a moment of inexplicable generosity, gave treaty rights to Native people as a gift. Of course, anyone familiar with the history of Indians in North America knows that Native people paid for every treaty right, and in some cases, paid more than once. The idea that either country gave First Nations something for free is horseshit.”
Thomas King’s tone in The Inconvenient Indian is sharply sarcastic, his humour is similarly knife-edged, taking no prisoners. He recounts the ills that his people have suffered and are STILL suffering with the tone of someone who has become used to the world turning deaf ears to them.
“The sad truth is that, within the public sphere, within the collective consciousness of the general populace, most of the history of Indians in North America has been forgotten, and what we are left with is a series of historical artifacts and, more importantly, a series of entertainments. As a series of artifacts, Native history is somewhat akin to a fossil hunt in which we find a skull in Almo, Idaho, a thigh bone on the Montana plains, a tooth near the site of Powhatan’s village in Virginia, and then, assuming that all the parts are from the same animal, we guess at the size and shape of the beast. As a series of entertainments, Native history is an imaginative cobbling together of fears and loathings, romances and reverences, facts and fantasies into a cycle of creative performances, in Technicolor and 3-D, with accompanying soft drinks, candy, and popcorn.
In the end, who really needs the whole of Native history when we can watch the movie?”
It is the sad truth that for many people “Indians” are part of a museum or the past when the truth is the First Nations people are very much a part of the narrative that sews together the modern North American society. The reluctance to realize this and to dismiss Native concerns as part of the past is our failing.
King also talks about the true nature of the conflict between the Whites (the hegemonic group in other words) and the Natives: the fight for land.
If you are at all familiar with what’s happening in the world, you will have seen the demonstrations and protests that are raging both online and offline over the proposed (and in some cases in construction) pipelines that will move crude oil from one place to another, destroying the environment and the land along the way. King describes the differences in thought between the ‘whites’ and the natives where land is concerned.
I’m paraphrasing but if I remember correctly, he says that to the whites land is ‘a commodity, to own, to sell, to exploit’ but to the natives land is ‘a resource to be shared, home, a valued gift, that esteemed guest at the dinner table, the parent who bears your weight and cultivates you,’ The land is valued not for what you can get out of it but for its importance and its constant-ness.
People are too quick to judge Native thoughts and philosophies, too dismissive of their valid concerns, and I can say this because I have seen this attitude among good people who simply do not bother to think about their attitudes.
Just this year, we had reports of multiple suicides in a (research). This alone should tell you that First Nations concerns are real and urgent and need to be heard. Their culture is appropriated by people who dress up at Halloween, they are used as the token villain or expendable character in fiction whose brief foray into the narrative is either to impart wisdom or die.
If you live in North America, you should definitely read this book. You need to read this book. Thanks Yash for recommending it to me for this month.