2013 Review: The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian

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

Review 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 he points out the inconsistencies in each.

In the stories, we are made to believe facts that are based on tales someone has made up and told someone else. 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 record of this in the National Archives or in the records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that are kept for various states and territories.

King 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.

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 as to the background of Smith and how he had been saved before by other beautiful women, not to mention the fact that in 1607, he was 27, and Pocahontas would have only been 10, maybe 12 years old.

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 taught not to question the stories that are told to us. To do so, goes against the accepted norm.

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