"The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" wins $40,000 award

From GlobeandMail.com

Thomas King wins $40,000 B.C. non-fiction prize for The Inconvenient Indian


Thomas King has won British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. He was awarded the $40,000 prize at a ceremony in Vancouver on Friday afternoon.

The jury, in its citation, called it a "wry, iconoclastic and important book that challenges us to think differently about both the past and the future."

"I loved it. It's a new way of looking at the [issue]," said Anna Porter, who sat on the jury along with Globe and Mail Books editor Jared Bland and Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham. They selected the book from more than 140 submissions. "He's able to make you see things with different eyes and I think that is the hallmark of a truly outstanding book," Porter added.

In The Inconvenient Indian, King unleashes his trademark humour on a seriously unfunny subject: the unconscionable treatment of First Nations and native Americans in Canada and the United States - massacres that have been wiped from memory and history books, the removal of people from their land and residential schools.

He debunks historical legends (readers will never think of Custer's Last Stand the same way), rails against systemic racism, and pokes holes and fun at the portrayal of First Nations in popular and consumer culture (everything from Pocahontas to Land O' Lakes butter).

The writing is accessible, infused with personality and wit.

"It is history but it's also personal and it's very dramatic," says Porter, a legendary Canadian publisher and award-winning author herself. "And I think his analysis is bang-on.... It's a new way of looking at where we are, and where we are is not so great."

King, 70, was born in California, of Cherokee and Greek heritage. Now based in Guelph, Ont., he's an award-winning novelist., created The Dead Dog CafĂ© Comedy Hour for CBC Radio, and delivered the Massey Lectures in 2003.

His book was also a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, and is on the short list for the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize), which will be awarded next month.

The other finalists for the B.C. award were Carolyn Abraham for The Juggler's Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us; J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be; Margaret MacMillan for The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914; and Graeme Smith for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, which earlier won the Weston Prize. Each finalist received $2,500.

The prize, open to Canadian authors, was launched in 2005 by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation.


From theGlobeandMail.com

The author Tom King


The Inconvenient Indian: The true story of native North Americans -- 'Whites want land'


Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Friday, Nov. 30 2012

Title The Inconvenient Indian
A Curious Account of Native People in North America
Author Thomas King
Genre history
Publisher Doubleday Canada
Pages 288
Price $34.95

The story of Canada is the story of her relationship with native people. Despite the clamouring of history to pull us into the full sweep of accepted history - the one that starts with "discovery" segues into brave "explorers" and into the notion of "two founding nations" - the real history of Canada begins with native people. Similarly, the story of North America. In 1492, native people discovered Columbus. That's the plain truth of it. Ever since that moment, the history of the continent has been interpreted and articulated through settler eyes. That there are gross inaccuracies and outright omissions is all too evident in the relative mainstream ignorance of all things indigenous circa 2012.

The truth, as it were, lies somewhere between what is taught and what is endured by indigenous people themselves. So it is that Cherokee/Greek author Thomas King offers us The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People In North America. Though it is built on a foundation of historical fact, King insists that the book is an "account," resting more on storytelling technique than a true historian's acumen.

We're glad that it is. Because this accounting dredges up little-known facts that illuminate the lack of comprehension about the role of indigenous people on the national consciousness of both Canada and the United States. Then it lays them out in frequently hilarious, sagacious, down-to-earth language that anyone can understand. Reading it, you can hear minds being blown everywhere.

"Most of us think that history is the past. It's not. It's the stories we tell about the past. That's all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign.

"Which, of course, it isn't."

From there, King leads us through accounts of the massacres of settlers that never happened to massacres of Indians that did, the true nature and intent of treaties and government apologies, the whole issue of land and a rollicking, gut-busting portrayal of Dead Indians, Live Indians and Legal Indians that perfectly outlines the whole issue of misperception.

It's all couched in a plainspoken forthrightness that shocks as often as it demystifies. In an examination of treaties, and the perception of Canada and U.S. governments as benevolent and generous, King declares, "The idea that either country gave first nations something for free" is malarkey.

Later, in an examination of what Indians want, when King refocuses the question on what white people want, he lays it out without question: "Whites want land.

"The issue that came ashore with the French and the English and the Spanish, the issue that was the raison d'ĂȘtre for each of the colonies, the issue that has made its way from coast to coast to coast and is with us today, is the issue of land. The issue has always been land."

With that understanding firmly stated, the whole nature and mechanics of history as inflicted on Indians in North America can be understood. It's not an easy acceptance. It takes some grit and desire.

But the book is ultimately about healing. As much as he uncovers the dirt of history, King shines a light on what is possible in the advancement of Indians to an equal place in both countries. It is essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams. We come to understand that Indians are inconvenient because, despite everything, we have not disappeared.

Thomas King is beyond being a great writer and storyteller, a lauded academic and educator. He is a towering intellectual. For native people in Canada, he is our Twain; wise, hilarious, incorrigible, with a keen eye for the inconsistencies that make us and our society flawed, enigmatic, but ultimately powerful symbols of freedom.

The Inconvenient Indian is less an indictment than a reassurance that we can create equality and harmony. A powerful, important book.

Richard Wagamese is native and committed to remaining as inconvenient as possible. His most recent book is the novel Indian Horse.