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Friday, March 22, 2013

Book Review-Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

Review-The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America
By: Christine McFarlane

Have you ever really looked at history and the stories behind them? Do you question if these stories are fact or myth or accept them as the absolute truth? You would like to think that what you are reading in your history books is truth but in “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America,” author Thomas King looks at the stories behind such events as the 1861 Almo massacre by the Shoshone-Bannock, the meeting of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, The Rebellion of 1885 with Louis Riel, the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, with George Armstrong Custer and many other stories and points out the inconsistencies in each.

In each story, we are made to believe facts that are based on tales someone has made up and told someone else. King states that the massacre in the town of Almo did not happen, because at that time in history attacks with such a large number of casualties did not go without mention. Newspapers at that time made no mention of this so called massacre, nor is there records of this in the National Archives or in the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that is kept for various states and territories.  King also argues that it was not until 66 years after this supposed event that a plaque was erected in the town of Almo as part of “Exploration Day,” which is an event that is designed to celebrate Idaho history and promote tourism in the area. Makes you wonder doesn't it? It makes you question, why it took 66 years to commemorate lives lost in such a massacre, when there are no records to back up this story. It's a legend told to make the town of Almo stand out, but the town did not even exist in the 1800's.

Similarly, there is the story of how Captain John Smith was saved by Pocahontas. It makes a great story for Disney where a beautiful maiden saves a hero. However, at the time of this meeting, there is questionable evidence to the background of Smith and how he had been saved before by other beautiful women. Yes, he may have been captured by the Powhatan peoples, but to be saved by a mere child? In1607, he was twenty seven, and Pocahontas would have only been ten, maybe twelve years old.How convenient that he is saved by a beautiful Indian girl.

History as Thomas King points out “may well be a series of stories we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They’re not chosen by chance. By and large, the stories are about famous men and celebrated events. We throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not out of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment. And we’re not easily embarrassed.”

History is not always what we are taught to believe. King argues that our concept of history is often thought of as something grand happening, a national chronicle built upon by authenticities and truths that are melded together into narratives that explains how we get from one end to the other. This very fact is interesting because the stories we read in textbooks are presented as truth and we are often taught not to question the stories that are told to us. To do so, goes against the acceptable norm.

“The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King is a book that once you pick up, you cannot put down. It takes you on a historical journey of examining the stories we are told throughout history, speaks about the relationship between non-Natives and Natives throughout the centuries, and has you wondering how we might tell a new story for the future. Thomas King fans will not be disappointed!

"The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America" is published by DoubleDay Canada and is 288 pages.

Please note: A similar review will be published in Windspeaker at a later date

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