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

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In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King offers a deeply knowing, darkly funny, unabashedly opinionated, and utterly unconventional account of Indian-White relations in North America since initial contact. Ranging freely across the centuries and the Canada-U.S. border, King debunks fabricated stories of Indian savagery and White heroism, takes an oblique look at Indians (and cowboys) in film and popular culture, wrestles with the history of Native American resistance and his own experiences as a Native rights activist, and articulates a profound, revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

Suffused with wit, anger, perception, and wisdom, The Inconvenient Indian is at once an engaging chronicle and a devastating subversion of history, insightfully distilling what it means to be “Indian” in North America. It is a critical and personal meditation that sees Native American history not as a straight line but rather as a circle in which the same absurd, tragic dynamics are played out over and over again. At the heart of the dysfunctional relationship between Indians and Whites, King writes, is land: “The issue has always been land.” With that insight, the history inflicted on the indigenous peoples of North America—broken treaties, forced removals, genocidal violence, and racist stereotypes—sharpens into focus. Both timeless and timely, The Inconvenient Indian ultimately rejects the pessimism and cynicism with which Natives and Whites regard one another to chart a new and just way forward for Indians and non-Indians alike.

ISBN-13: 9781517904463

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

Publication Date: 01-02-2018

Pages: 304

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Thomas King is one of Canada’s premier Native public intellectuals. He was the first Aboriginal person to deliver the prestigious Massey Lectures, and he is the best-selling, award-winning author of six novels, two collections of short stories, and two nonfiction books. The Inconvenient Indian won the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and the RBC Taylor Prize. He is a recipient of the Order of Canada and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

Read an Excerpt

About fifteen years back, a bunch of us got together to form a drum group. John Samosi, one of our lead singers, suggested we call ourselves “The Pesky Redskins.” Since we couldn’t sing all that well, John argued, we needed a name that would make people smile and encourage them to overlook our musical deficiencies.

Excerpted from "The Inconvenient Indian"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Thomas King.
Excerpted by permission of Doubleday Canada.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Consider the evolution from the title Pesky Redskins: A Curious History of Indians in North America to the book's title The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Indians in North America. Why did King come to the conclusion that this book is not a history? What do you think is the significance of the terms "Redskins" and "Indians"?

2. On several occasions King reveals the futility of writing a history. "One of the difficulties with trying to contain any account of Indians in North America ina volume as modest as this is that it can't be done" (xiv). He goes on to concede he prefers fiction to fact (xi), and that he is not keeping his biases in check (xii). Is bringing these issues to the forefront an effective strategy? How might shedding light on historical incongruity such as the Almo massacre and the story of Pocahontas impact the way you read historical accounts in the future? What does that tell you about how history is written and taught?

3. King writes, "Gazing through the lens that seventeenth-century Christisanity provided, most were only able to see the basic dichotomy that framed their world, a world that was either light or dark, good or evil, civilized or savage" (23). How has the lens through which White North America looks altered since the seventeenth century? How has it remained the same? If North American history is written froma White consciousness, as King suggests, in what ways is this book different, coming from a Native writer and perspective?

4. What does King's statement, "the need for race preceeds race" (29) signify? The author goes on to note that while General Custer became a staple in American history, individuals like Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull remain minor figures. Why is it important to keep what history made of Custer in mind? In what ways is racism still, as King says, endemic and systemic in North America?

5. King writes, "Most of us this history is the past. It's not. History is the stories we tell about the past" (2). What does this say about the oral and written traditions of telling stories? Discuss the implications and effectiveness of King's decision to tell anecdotes rather than limit the book to dates and statistics.

6. On page 20, King asserts that "Native history is an imaginative cobbling together of fears and loathings, romances and reverences, facts and fantasies" as portrayed on the silver screen by Hollywood. What was—and is—the impact of having this history promoted through the entertainment industry? How do film and television today reinforce stereotypes and an incomplete history of Aboriginals in North America?

7. Discuss the differences between what King calls Dead Indians, Live Indians, and Legal Indians. How does the idea of the Dead Indian affect Live Indians today? Is it promoting a myth that is ultimately detrimental, or, as is said on page 74, serving a purpose by preserving a culture?

8. In the prologue of the book King states, "when we look at Native-Non-Native relations, there is no great difference betweenthe past and the present" (xv). In what ways has Duncan Campbell Scott's move to "get rid of the Indian problem" (72) evolved in Canadian government policy in the last 100 years? Is there evidence that this sentiment still exists? Canada is known as a cultural mosaic, widely appreciated for embracing cultrual and racial differences. In what ways does this hold true in the case of Indians? In what ways is it an untrue understanding? Is Stephen Harper's apology for residential schools still legitimate when he later denies a history of colonialism?

9. The cover image of this book is taken from a mid-1900s promotional poster for a shipping company. What does this say about the era's marketing of the Dead Indian? What effect does today's marketing of "Native" crafts, medicines, and retreats have on Natives and Native history?

10. Consider the incongruities of identity for a Native that King describes: on one hand is a culture of young Indian children who wished to dress up as cowboys (22), and on the other, a contemporary actor who seemed to acquire an "Indian identity" after acquiring a role as an Indian (45). What implications does this have on Natives' identities? In what ways has Indian policy, as King says on page 177, discouraged the retention of such identities?

11. King enlists satire and humour throughout The Inconvenient Indian. Does this make you consider things differently than you would in reading the same sentiments in a traditional history book? Why might maintaining a sense of humour be important to King in writing this book and persuading his readers? Is it an effective tool?

12. An early intention of the residential schooling system was to "kill the Indian in order to save the man" (107). What are the immediate and long-term impacts of this assimilation on Native people? Consider the conditions and philosophies of the schools, and discuss whether they blur a line between "assimilation" and "extermination," as King explicates on page 101. In what ways is King's comparison of Natives to the holocaust on page 114 a fair—or unfair—comparison? King associates the Trial of Tears to the twin towers (88); European colonialism to malaria; and Reservations to Alcatraz prison (141)—are these convincing analogies?

13. Do you think taht sovereignty should be a right of Native people in North America? What impact would it hold compared to a more comprehensive tribal membership or resource development systems, which King promotes on page 202?

14. In the last chapter of his book King points to two positive developments for Natives in North America: The Alaska Native Claims Settlement and The Nunavut Land Claims Settlement. What impact do they have on the tribes who inhabit these areas, and on all tribes in North America? In what ways is it not, as King warns on page 249, an outright victory or triumph?

15. King offers Bill-C31 and the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples as examples of government legislation which harmed Native people (167, 170). How do Bill-C45 and the Idle No More Movement or other recent government legislations relate to this? In what ways has the Canadian government evolved in its treatment of Natives since the colonial period, and in what ways is it similar?

16. How has this book influenced your idea of how far North America has come and how much further it needs to go in regards to Native-Non-Native relations? What hope and what warning does King close his book with? What else do you think should be done to improve relations, rights, and reserves for Natives in North America?

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