BOOK FIEND: ‘Inconvenient Indian’ is eye-opening page-turner
We live in perilous times, or at least it feels like that to this old woman.
As of the time that I am writing this review, at least 130,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S. For context, in an average year, influenza is estimated to kill about 30,000 people, although estimates vary as high as 60,000. COVID-19 has still killed twice as many people in six months than the flu kills in a rough year.
I heard yesterday that 90 percent of new cases could be eliminated if everyone wore a mask. A simple remedy, although few seem to be following it.
Much less simple to solve is the systemic racism that has permeated our great nation since inception.
As statues are being torn down and Black Lives Matter protests dot the landscape of every town in America, many people find themselves either confused or angry. Our nephew, who lives in the Twin Cities, clarified the best response for me when he said, after the riots in Minneapolis erupted following the death of George Floyd, “Here is what I’ve learned in the last few days: I have a lot to learn.”
I agreed with him. So, I read.
At the recommendation of my son, who is an attorney who specializes in Indian law (which is how the U.S. defines policies in federal statutes regarding Native Americans), I began to read “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” by Thomas King.
In “The Inconvenient Indian,” King writes about history in a manner that illuminates but also manages to entertain, a combination I found irresistible. King has a dry wit that results in a book that is not only chock-full of facts and historical information, but his writing also flows with the ease of a compelling novel.
With both skillful research and close attention to what might seem insignificant events, his intention is to shake us a bit, and he succeeds.
Case in point is his explanation of what becomes history: “When we imagine history, we imagine grand structure; a national chronicle, an organized and guarded record of agreed – upon events and interpretations, a bundle of authenticities and truths welded into a flexible yet conservative narrative that explains how we got from there to here.”
But no, not always, he gently instructs us. For example, Indian massacres, such as Alamo, Idaho. Alamo is a small town of about 200 in southern Idaho. A plaque in town reads, “Dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in a most horrible Indian massacre, 1861. Three hundred immigrants west bound. Only five escaped. Erected by the S&D Pioneers, 1938.”
The problem is, the massacre did not happen. Even after the massacre was discredited, King points out, the town was reluctant to remove the marker, defending the lie as part of the culture and history of the area.
His book outlines other “inconvenient” truths in the U.S. as well as Canada, covering North America in its scope. I highly recommend it.
An openness to learn will help us bridge the gaps in understanding between us. King’s book is a great start towards learning about the First Americans.