I finished two books this week, one of which was The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King. The book is an account of relations between whites and Indians throughout the history of America, though this description alone does not do it justice. King is not so much a historian as he is a sort of poet. His style of writing is darkly humorous, and I admire the transparency with which he shares how he arrives at his conclusions. There are a number of passages I love in this book. One was from the prologue, in which King discloses that his first idea for the title of his account was “pesky redskins”. But the passage that really steals my heart is this one:
Land has always been a defining element of Aboriginal culture. Land contains the languages, the stories, and the histories of a people. It provides water, air, shelter, and food. Land participates in the ceremonies and songs. And land is home. Not in an abstract way. The Blackfoot in Alberta live in the shadow of Ninastiko or Chief Mountain. The mountain is a special place for the Blackfoot, and friends on the reserve at Standoff have told me more than once that, as long as they can see the mountain, they know they are home. (King, 2012, p. 218)
King is describing the fundamental struggle that Native people in America have gone through (and are still) to retain their land in the face of rampant capitalistic development. This has been a historic conflict, starting with the arrival of Europeans to the landmass that is now known as the Americas.
Even now, while I might obtain some significance from these words in a literal sense, I scarcely think I understand what the passage means. The paragraph resonates in my heart long after my brain has finished comprehension. It may explain why a second-generation Axomiya woman (me) relates to a history that is not of her own people. Natives in America have been uprooted from their ancestral homes and been pushed from one plot of undesirable land to another (King, 2012, p. 216).My family was not so much uprooted as it was drawn because of insecurity at home, and the illusion of opportunity in another place.
Yet, for all the rights I am guaranteed as an American citizen-by-birth, I have always felt like a stranger in the place I was born. “Home” is not so much a physical place for me as it is a concept. Home is where the people like me are. I might never know the land from which my family originates. It is oceans away and is slowly becoming more development than land as well. But in the Axomiya language, in Axomiya music, a semblance of the physical is retained.
In this manner, I think King has a particular gift. There is a simplicity in the way he writes that makes his narrative accessible, even to people with very different approaches to history. Unlike other historians, who wax grandiloquent all too frequently, his account reflects a refreshing humility. There is far more than content to be gleaned from King’s account, though the content is nothing to sniff at either. All things considered, I highly recommend the read.
King, T. (2012). The inconvenient Indian: A curious account of Native people in North America. Toronto, Canada: Dead Dog Cafe Productions, Inc.