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The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King Published 2012

HERB JOHNSON
GAZETTE CONTRIBUTOR
The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King Published 2012
This book concerns itself with the historical, and current, relationship between Indians and Whites. Those are the author’s designations, arrived at in the prologue after some discussion about “First Nations, Native Americans, Indigenous People, Aboriginals” and so on. King, who is an Indian, chooses the term “Whites” because, he says, Native people have been using it for years and it’s a perfectly serviceable term.
So that sets the tone. It’s a book about Indians and Whites written by a man who has been researching and thinking all his adult life. The result is a mountain of historical fact leavened with the author’s insights and opinions, delivered in a manner that is most often sardonic, with maybe a touch of sarcasm.
Early in the book King notes that North American culture has three stereotype classifications . . . “Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians.”
Dead Indians are most often not actually dead; they are living people who are seen by Whites to conform to a well-worn stereotype built on . . . “war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses . . .” Dead Indians, King says, are everywhere, in “. . . rodeos, powwows, movies and television commercials.”
Live Indians? King says they were supposed to die out, but didn’t and are stored away on reserves, rural backwaters and cities. “Out of sight, out of mind,” he says.
Legal Indians are those with official, government-granted status. King’s estimate is that about 40 per cent of the Live Indians in North America today are Legal Indians.
King says that while North American Whites love the stereotype of the Dead Indian, they would prefer it if the Live and Legal ones simply went away.
This analysis comes early in the book; much of the rest of it is concerned with an examination of the many treaties between Whites and the Native population. There is a mountain of information to support the view that the Indian has lost a great deal.
At the end, King asks if Indians want to pursue the concept of sovereignty and self-determination or to step away from who they are and “. . . sink into the stewpot of North America.”
This is a tough book. If the reader desires, it can be balanced a bit with one of his five novels. Medicine River, published in 1989 while King was living in Lethbridge, is recommended.

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