I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The Inconvenient Indian is at once a “history” and the complete subversion of a history—in short, a critical and personal meditation that the remarkable Thomas King has conducted over the past 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, this book distills the insights gleaned from that meditation, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.
This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope -- a sometimes inconvenient, but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.
”[For] me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”
I might never have read this book, had it not been a selection for my real-life book club. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s novel The Back of the Turtle last year—it was one of my 5 star selections. His humour and style are both very appealing to me and reading it was like buttering warm toast. But I’m not much of a non-fiction history reader. I feel like I did my time reading history while taking my Canadian Studies degree, and now I want to concentrate on fiction and non-history non-fiction, if you understand me there.
So, I approached this book with trepidation. And what can I possibly say about Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian? It is well written—I would expect nothing less from so able an author. He herded his porcupines well.
It is tough. Tough on the dominant society, as it should be. For me, it was tough to read. I imagine as a white Canadian reading this, I felt very much like men feel when they read feminist critiques of modern society. A bit bewildered—okay, I know that things need to change, but how? I didn’t come out of this book with a clear idea of what should be done or if there is anything that I can do to improve the situation.
I would have appreciated a bibliography or a few notes or something—to point me to other reading material should I decide to pursue one of the topics he references.
An important book in the Canadian conversation and one that should be read widely, perhaps taught in our high schools.