This is a widely recommended book in Canada and deservedly so. King is a witty, articulate and colourful writer and that comes through even in this painful and devastating history of the 1st peoples of the two largest countries on our continent – native people, as he writes, do not recognize our European-imposed borders. For more than 500 years, Europeans have occupied native land; we may have wanted to eliminate or assimilate them, but King and his book are proof that native people and their culture have not only survived our mistreatment, but have flourished right under our elevated noses.
King has a humorous style and a light touch, making for a very readable history of five centuries of injustice, but he spares no feelings or hard truths in his accounts of cruelty, betrayal and greed by the dominant society. He writes about reservations, treaties, the commercialization (particularly in films) and sentimentalization of Indians, including the frequency of place names, “Dead Indian,” and goes on to write about the rise of activism and groups like AIM (American Indian Movement) and organized actions around the Meech Lake Accord and recent attempts at land grabs – remember the Oka confrontation about a proposed golf course.
Native peoples have been using the legal system with some success to gain their rights, in spite of King’s doubts, he sees some future in the thought that, “the laws of the land will finally ride to the rescue and we will all live happily ever after.” Maybe.
The hope lies in the native cultures themselves. While warning against more losses and injustices, King sees hope. He writes, “Native cultures are not static. They’re dynamic, adaptive and flexible, and for many of us, the modern variations of older tribal traditions continue to provide order, satisfaction, identity and value in our lives.”
And in a direct challenge to our dominant society and its politicians he writes, “The fact of Native existence is that we live modern lives informed by traditional values and contemporary realities and we wish to live those lives on our own term.” A clear call for respect, understanding and solidarity on our part.