Disney’s Pocahontas has some pointed lines in the song “Colors of the Wind” about the curious fact that there were people already in place when foreigners sailed from other lands and claimed the Americas for themselves. “You think I’m an ignorant savage, And you’ve been so many places, I guess it must be so, But still I cannot see, If the savage one is me, How can there be so much that you don’t know? You think you own whatever land you land on, The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim, But I know every rock and tree and creature Has a life, has a spirit, has a name.”
However, King points out how often Indians/First Nations/Aboriginals/Indigenous people are mis-portrayed in Hollywood versions such as Pocahontas. Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian was a contender in Canada Reads 2015 as a book to “break barriers.” Craig Kielburger championed the book saying, “Thomas King is one of Canada’s foremost aboriginal intellects, but as a young boy playing Cowboys and Indians, no one wanted to be the Indian, not even him.” There is an interesting interview King has with Shelagh Rogers on CBC, that is also included as an appendix to the print edition of the book.
King demonstrates how almost everything we thought we knew about Native people in North America is wrong and gives a corrected historical account of what happened. With his dry sense of humour (which never descends into snarkiness), and his keen eye for the issues, he provides an overview that is both educational and entertaining. The goal of the new Europeans was always to assimilate and/or exterminate Native peoples and their culture. Residential schools were the most blatant and heinous example of “Kill the Indian, save the man.” The abuse that so many children suffered in those schools silenced not only their language and cultural expression, but also their hope for the future and a positive view of themselves.
The average Canadian and American has too often “looked away” from this issue, because it was inconvenient. King’s account, albeit sad, is buffered by humour and honesty, making it a readable chronicle on a topic that is important for all North Americans. King is a storyteller at heart and he says himself that non-fiction is hard for him to write. He has written a number of novels as well, the latest is The Back of the Turtle which won the Governor General’s award for fiction in 2014.