Book Review, Canadian Literature, History, Indigenous, Indigenous literature, Native American, non-fiction, North America, review, The Inconvenient Indian, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King
But most Canadians, like most Americans, have a shockingly poor grasp of their own history. Dates, people, the large and small nuances of events have all been reduced to the form and content of Classic Comics. This isn’t a complaint. It’s an acknowledgment that people are busy with other things and generally glance at the past only on holidays” – The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King
Initial thoughts: When I was assigned this non-fiction account of Indigenous people in North America, all I could think was… oh great. I usually don’t read many non-fiction books . I know I should, but generally, my heart gravitates towards fiction. This book really surprised me in many ways.
Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian provides a portrait on the treatment of Indigenous people in the past and present. King’s book touches on all aspects of how Indigenous people are viewed by society such as in the media, popular culture, the government, and in Indigenous communities.
As you are probably aware by now… I am an English major, and most of the books that I read 8 months out of 12 months of the year is part of my required reading. It is only from April to early September that I can actually choose which books I want to read. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Natives in North America by: Thomas King was part of my required reading for a course on Canadian Indigenous literature.
First of all, I decided to enroll myself in Indigenous literature because it was unique, and this is the first time a course on Indigenous literature was taught at my university. Of course, I didn’t think about what I knew in advance about Indigenous culture. The images that formed in my mind of Indigenous culture was primarily of harmful stereotypes I absorbed from childhood, and the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Additionally, in my last year of high school, as an elective, I studied Canadian history online. In that course, the only thing I learned about Indigenous people was the Red River Rebellion (Louis Riel). Other than that, I practically knew next to nothing.
As an English major, knowing the historical, cultural, and social context of a piece of literature is essential to forming a critical analysis. I had taken it for granted that I had developed a solid foundation when reading the symbolism behind English literature. I had also taken it for granted that I had a pretty decent outline of English, American, and Canadian history and culture. When I began reading the assigned reading a month prior to my first class (just being the overachiever that I am), I was at a loss for words.
The second book I read pertaining to Indigenous culture (Joseph Boyden’s Wenjack was the first) was Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Natives in North America. This is a non-fiction history or account of Indigenous issues from the past and into the present. It is easy to think that because there are no more residential schools that everything is now fine with Indigenous communities. WRONG! Thomas King made me realize that the trauma that Indigenous children faced in residential schools was transmitted to the next generation. As the abuse in residential schools was hardly recognized (arguably it continues to be unrecognized), Indigenous communities couldn’t heal or reconcile this trauma.
Each chapter of Thomas King’s book deals with a different set of issues facing Indigenous communities. My particular favorite was the second chapter “The End of the Trail.” In this chapter, Thomas King explores some of the most popular films from the past and present featuring Indigenous people. I didn’t understand fully until now how films have a great effect on the viewer. It is easy to say that we know the difference between Indigenous people as they are portrayed on film as they are in real life. As most of the representations of Indigenous people that many people see is through film, it can be difficult to distinguish reality from fiction. And that’s terrifying!
When I first picked up the book, I was expecting it to be dry and overly factual. Honestly, I am not someone who usually enjoys non-fiction books. Instead, I tend to read shorter articles and listen to documentaries. The Inconvenient Indian was completely different from my expectations. Instead of overloading the reader with a bunch of facts, King incorporates these facts into thought provoking humorous explanations. For instance, in his chapter “Forget About It,” he says:
I’ll gather up all of North American Indian history prior to 1985, pile it in a field, and set it on fire. Get rid of everything. Massacres, deprivations, depredations, broken treaties, government lies” – The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
This sounds like a daring move to “forget” about Indigenous history prior to 1985. King presents a portrait of current Indigenous issues up to present day. What ends up happening is that you end up realizing that conditions for Indigenous people have not improved as they should have. In fact, the unresolved issues of the past have morphed into the silenced and rarely spoken of realities of the present. Throughout this chapter, in spite of everything, King manages not to preach to his readers. Instead, he engagingly presents the facts and expects the readers to draw their own conclusions.
I would definitely recommend this book to all Canadians and Americans. It is about time that we inform ourselves better on the Indigenous people of our countries.
About the Book Title: The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America Author: Thomas King Series: N/A Year Published: 2013 Pages: 266 Genres: Non-fiction, Indigenous, History, North America, Canadian literature
Until next time,