I was given a copy of this book by a Canadian friend who thought I would be interested in the insights of its author, Thomas King. Given that I am fascinated by issues of identity and cultural difference this book was right up my street. I was much struck by the comments of the cultural commentator Stuart Hall who reminded us that identity is rarely fixed but is an ‘ongoing conversation’. Since identity is as much about how others see us, or categorise us, as it is about how we see ourselves this book tackles very important questions in this area.
Thomas King is an amusing guide through the complexities of history and language and the difficulties faced by anyone trying to talk about the past. The sub-title is ‘A Curious Account of Native People in North America’. The book covers both Canada and USA and the point is made that the border was not created by the native people. He covers historical events but also discusses how popular arts have portrayed ‘Indians’. The book is highly personal, though, and King, who is part Cherokee, shows that his own struggle with what it means to be an ‘Indian’ in modern day North America is ongoing.
There is no doubt that King feels trampled on by modern society and the book works best when the points are well made to an audience of non- aboriginal people. His good humour does not prevent a keen sense of injustice to come through.
I hate the phrase ‘politically correct’. It is used mostly (only?) by people who want to rubbish the idea of taking other people’s differences into account. It is important to hear other voices and other experiences and to listen when they make it clear that difference is to be amplified rather than hidden.
‘The Inconvenient Indian’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?