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The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

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Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, The Inconvenient Indian distills the insights gleaned from Thomas King's critical and personal meditation on what it means to be "Indian" in North America, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with ...

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The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America

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Rich with dark and light, pain and magic, The Inconvenient Indian distills the insights gleaned from Thomas King's critical and personal meditation on what it means to be "Indian" in North America, weaving the curiously circular tale of the relationship between non-Natives and Natives in the centuries since the two first encountered each other. In the process, King refashions old stories about historical events and figures, takes a sideways look at film and pop culture, relates his own complex experiences with activism, and articulates a deep and revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.
     This is a book both timeless and timely, burnished with anger but tempered by wit, and ultimately a hard-won offering of hope—a sometimes inconvenient but nonetheless indispensable account for all of us, Indian and non-Indian alike, seeking to understand how we might tell a new story for the future.

Winner of the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Native novelist and vocal advocate for First Nation rights, King (The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative) delivers an intelligent and eye-opening overview of Native peoples in post-Columbus North America in this new volume, a book that “has been a work-in-progress for most of adult life.” The effort shows. Fastidiously working his way from convenient and comforting myths (like that of Pocahontas rescuing Capt. John Smith) to the real-life atrocities on the Trail of Tears, at Wounded Knee, and countless other incidents, and on to the 20th century’s conscious, legislated marginalization of Natives—King demonstrates with sharp and swift strokes how the U.S. and Canada have repeatedly treated Natives as an inconvenience, an obstacle to be rid of, moved, or carefully rounded up, then reimagined altogether. It’s also a book that charts how such injustices are often replaced by kinder, more audience-friendly historical narratives; as King quips, “fictions are less unruly than histories.” Reminiscent of the subversive revisionism of Howard Zinn, King’s deeply personal and knowledgeable account of North American Natives scathes, chides, and often pokes fun, but suffers from a unilaterally sardonic tone that seethes with understandable indignation but leaves too little space for hope or progress. Agent: Jackie Kaiser, Westwood Creative Artists (Canada). (Sept.)
Library Journal
King (The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative) is a multitalented author of Cherokee descent whose accomplishments include writing children's books, novels, short story collections, and historical works. Here he offers his views on people and events that have impacted Native people in North America from the time of Columbus to the present day. Although this type of monograph has become somewhat overrepresented, King's title manages to rise above other works in the genre. Simply put, his conversational authorial voice makes the book both witty and thought-provoking. His inclusion of Canada's First Nations also offers an essential dimension not seen often enough in such works. While he touches on the usual suspects, such as Columbus and Pocahontas, King also addresses topics such as the activities of Native Americans who perpetuate stereotypes of their own people. One example he offers is U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's speech at the opening of an American Indian museum in 2004; to appear "authentic," the senator wore buckskins and a feathered headdress instead of a suit, which is what he would have typically worn as a politician. VERDICT This is an entertaining read that will most appeal to academic readers interested in anthropology or North American history.—John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY
Kirkus Reviews
"[A]ny discussion of Indians in North America is likely to conjure up a certain amount of rage," writes King (A Short History of Indians in Canada, 2013, etc.) in this quirky history--but also "moments of irony and humour." Taking a deep historical look at both Canada and the United States, the author irreverently recounts the wonderful treaties that were made and frequently broken. As William Tecumseh Sherman said, "treaties were never made to be kept, but to serve a present purpose, to settling a present difficulty in the easiest manner possible…and then to be disregarded as soon as this purpose was tainted." Though the story is hardly new, many readers likely don't know much about Canadian Indians' difficulties with the English and French. In fact, they were treated as badly as the natives of the Lower 48. The author's wit and storytelling talent make the book easy to read; more importantly, his humor may keep readers from wanting to scream at the injustices. In his exploration, King roughly categorizes Indians as "dead Indians," "legal Indians" and "live Indians." Dead Indians are the stereotypical noble savages clad in buckskin and feathers. Live Indians are literally live and not living up to the dead Indian cliché; legal Indians are those people that the government(s) has declared are live Indians. The author has plenty to say about the white man's treatment of the land, with environmental issues like the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone Pipeline at the top of his how-dumb-can-you-be list. If there are anger and sarcasm in the tales of abuse and sequestered Indian lands, you can't really blame him. King's wife, reading over his shoulder, suggested he had way too many lists. She's right, but this is still a solid book and a good look at what can be done in the future of Indian-white relations.
From the Publisher
Nominated for the Canadian Booksellers Association Non-Fiction Book of the Year
FINALIST 2013 – Trillium Award
FINALIST 2013 – Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction

The Inconvenient Indian may well be unsettling for many non-natives in this country to read. This is exactly why we all should read it. Especially now.”
Vancouver Sun

“[The Inconvenient Indian is] couched in a plainspoken forthrightness that shocks as often as it demystifies. . . . It is essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams. . . . 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.”
The Globe and Mail

The Inconvenient Indian is a book of stories with a lot of history in it. It may well be the best analysis of how Native people have existed, and still exist, in North America. . . . What a gift this book is. What gratitude we owe this wise and gracious and frisky writer. . . . Even if you think you know North American Aboriginal history, you will be richly engaged by the stories [King] tells. And if you don’t know it, this is a fine place to begin.”
The Chronicle Journal

“Sharply intellectual and informative, yet humourous and delightfully human, King unearths the myths and misunderstandings about Aboriginal peoples – and there is certainly a lot to dig up. If it’s an act of solidarity and outstanding creative non-fiction you’re after, get yourself a copy of The Inconvenient Indian.”
—Amber Dawn, National Post

“Every Canadian should read Thomas King’s new book, The Inconvenient Indian. . . . It’s funny, it’s readable, and it makes you think. If you have any kind of a social conscience, The Inconvenient Indian will also make you angry.”
Toronto Star

“King uses stories to turn history upside down. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that he presents history with a candour and honesty rarely found in usual accounts of the interaction of aboriginals and non-aboriginals.”
The Winnipeg Free Press

“What makes it all palatable, and at times nearly pleasurable, is King’s gift of irony. He’s a master of the lethal one-liner. . . .  King wants to make his readers smile even as they wince. . . . This book includes painful reminders of the huge injustices done to Indians in the past. It also sets out a few reasons why the future may be better.”
Calgary Herald

“Brilliantly insightful. . . . Humour aside, this is an unflinching, occasionally fierce work. Natives are often chided for dwelling too much on the past, yet if this book proves anything, it’s that it behooves all of us to do a lot more of exactly that.”
Quill & Quire

The Inconvenient Indian [is] a remarkable narrative of native culture, policy, and history in North America. It’s also a powerful reality check.”
The Hill Times

“Subversive, entertaining, well-researched, hilarious [and] enraging. . . . In this thoughtful, irascible account, and in characteristically tricksterish mode, King presents a provocative alternative version of Canada’s heritage narrative.”
—RBC Taylor Prize Jury

The Inconvenient Indian exposes and makes accessible, perhaps for the first time, our perspective of events that have shaped this continent. King is reclaiming our true lived experience in the tradition of our storytellers and artists. He brings humour, razor sharp analysis and insight, compelling every reader to confront the uncomfortable and urgent reality of our peoples today. His voice makes a fundamental contribution to the effort required to engage in understanding and respect for a dignified and just way forward for all who today call this land home.”
—National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo
"Fascinating, often hilarious, always devastatingly truthful, The Inconvenient Indian is destined to become a classic of historical narrative. For those who wish to better understand Native peoples, it is a must read. For those who don't wish to understand, it is even more so."
—Joseph Boyden
“Not since Eduardo Galeano's astonishing trilogy, Memory of Fire, have I read an account of European contact and the Amerindian experience as  full of wit, compassion, humour, irony and pathos as this wonderful and brilliant new book by Thomas King. At moments I found myself laughing aloud, at others wiping a tear from my eye.”
—Wade Davis

“A book of incredible range and genius. From the iconography of the ‘Indian,’ sedimented in everyday objects from butter to missiles, to the ongoing economic war waged against First Nations peoples across North America, Thomas King is magisterial in this devastating and comprehensive dissection of history, contemporary politics and culture. His analysis is incisive, the seam of irony running through his prose, as affable as a filet knife.”
—Dionne Brand

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816689767
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 9/5/2013
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 127,020
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

THOMAS KING is one of Canada's premier Native public intellectuals. For the past five decades, he has worked as an activist for Native causes and an administrator of Native programs, and has taught Native literature and history at universities in the United States and Canada. He is the bestselling author of five novels, including Medicine River, described as "precise and elegant" by The New York Times; Green Grass, Running Water, which Newsweek called "a first class work of art"; and Truth and Bright Water, a CBC Canada Reads 2004 Selection. He is also the author of two frequently anthologized collections of short stories, several books for children, and the 2003 Massey Lectures, The Truth About Stories. He has been nominated for or won numerous awards and honours, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, the Governor General's Literary Award, the Trillium Award, the Commonwealth Prize, and the Order of Canada. He lives in Guelph, Ontario. The author lives in Guelph, Ontario.

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Table of Contents


Prologue: Warm Toast and Porcupines

1. Forget Columbus

2. The End of the Trail

3. Too Heavy to Lift

4. One Name to Rule Them All

5. We Are Sorry

6. Like Cowboys and Indians

7. Forget about It

8. What Indians Want

9. As Long as the Grass Is Green

10. Happy Ever After


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 17, 2014

    A must read

    The title says it all! This one is a must read!

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  • Posted December 10, 2013

    Quite a Story, and We'd All Best Read It

    Owing to the author's wonderful, sly sense of humor, I laughed through most of the first two chapters. But the story he tells is simply too harsh to keep laughing. This is an absolute must read for every person who idolizes Native Americans, who discriminates against them, or who is interested in the true story. Thomas King will keep you riveted to his story, and he will teach you things you will wish you did not know, but ignoring this history is a criminal act.

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