Canada Reads: The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Thomas King writes history the way I wish it was taught in all schools: passionately, subjectively, and damn truthfully.

I decided to get ready for Canada Reads 2015 by reading all the books in advance for once and also fulfill a Read Harder requirement–a book by someone from an indigenous culture–in one fell swoop. It was a hard swoop.

I am not a fan of non-fiction, particularly history books. Don’t get me wrong, a great deal of history is curious, as King writes in The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. To be fair he did not actually call it a history in the end.

King handles one of the most divisive topics in North America today: Aboriginals. It’s a topic so wrought with land mines that we struggle with the diction alone–Aboriginals, Native Americans, First Nations, Indians–which is pretty pointless as King points out because there are so many different bands/tribes each with its unique character and language that it’s so ineffective it’s stupid.

The Inconvenient Indian swings hard with its left hitting home with the weight of the guilt of a truly devastating mistreatment of all Aboriginals in North America–it can’t be hidden that the abuse, the thievery, and the chicanery (as King likes to call it) which was imposed by settlers spits in the face of everything Canada and America like to pat themselves on the back for as being socially conscious nations. Yet, King softens the blow with his anecdotes and wry humour. Or maybe it just makes it hurt so much worse. There is a fine line between tragedy and comedy after all.

He also has penend the classiest Hitler joke I have ever heard by far:

Eugenics, a natural byproduct of the discussion of race, was a very popular idea in the early part of the twentieth century, until Hitler and the Nazi regime went and wrecked it for everyone.

Hilarious. If being a superior comedian wasn’t enough, King also has to be heartbreakingly insightful into the complexities of racial profiling:

Real Indians, she told me, with no hint of humour or irony, didn’t have facial hair. For us Live Indians, being invisible is annoying enough, but being inauthentic is crushing.

“Real Indians,” King calls Dead Indians, or the stereotypes and expectations society has of Aboriginal people including: the headdresses, the loyal Tonto-type personality, and all the bells and whistles sold in the media. Live Indians are the people who are actually alive, but King separates out the Legal Indian as the type that the government is trying to kill. Those pesky people in all the treaties and the news.

The book as a whole has been a wild ride. Long breaks in between chapters were a must for me with such a dizzying problem laid out page by page. All that history I didn’t really pay attention to in elementary school, and so much more that public schools really won’t tell you.

As a Canada Reads contender I think it has a real chance. It will certainly be interesting to see Craig Kielburger’s arguments for it given his background in activism and social enterprise. I don’t know that I would name this as the book for all Canadians to read in 2015 though. It’s a book that should be on a list of mandatory reads for all Canadians for the foreseeable future, but I’ve also been championing Ru which is fiction and that matters a great deal to me. It’s far too early for me to call it, but King represents an often overlooked and critical group in Canadian society for this year’s theme of diversity. I’ll put it in my top two for now.