An Inconvenient Indian: Part 1

I’ve never known a lot about Aboriginal history in North America, and I would fall asleep in history class, so reading about it from the witty perspective of Guelph author Thomas King seemed like the perfect fit for me.

Note: This book is non-fiction and is about an ongoing issue, so my analysis of it may be different than others.

An Inconvenient Indian is, as the cover says, “a curious account of Native people in North America.” It’s author, Thomas King, is Native himself, and does not shy away from including his own remarks and frank explanations of how Western culture shaped the image of Indigenous people. You can tell he is done holding white peoples’ hand and rightly so; it’s been decades, centuries, and though mass genocides have generally stopped, the government and society as a whole have been dragging their feet to right their wrongs or to have any native representation in the media. Their only representation is when their culture is commodified, either as a racist symbol on a sports team or tub of butter, or in the ways their cultural practices have been whitewashed into “luxury retreats”.

King remarks that “‘Our relationship with the earth’-sounds worn out and corny. But that’s not the fault of Native people. Phrases such as ‘Mother Earth,’ ‘in harmony with nature’, and ‘seven generations’ have been kidnapped by White North America and stripped of their power.” (King 67) He then went on to list the many brands and products in our daily life that have taken Native phrases or titles and made them the name of a thing that has absolutely nothing to do with Indigenous culture. One of those products I actually own. I use all natural cleaning product “Seventh Generation,” and had no idea that it was a phrase from Native culture-I just thought it meant that the company was in the family for seven generations!  Obviously, I won’t be buying it again, but the point King makes connects to his theory of “Dead Indian”: Western culture does not see Native culture as an evolved, modern society, and doesn’t want to. What they (or we) want instead is to see the stereotypical “Indian”, with a headdress and bone necklace, who is stoic and speaks “wisely” and lives in a tipi, because God-forbid they stray from that image and live in a wigwam or a longhouse.

As a reader, I find this book to be incredibly educational so far.  I’ve never felt educated enough on this important topic, and I want to be able to encourage discussion and be an ally to Indigenous rights without becoming a “White Saviour.” This book serves as a reminder that while yes, Native people have been treated horrendously, they are not a charity case. Most media outlets covering Indigenous rights paint them with a broad brush stroke as one group. An Inconvenient Indian brings back the humanness to this issue, making it about individuals instead of one, historically obscured, cause. I can’t wait to read the rest.

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