Just Read: @ McNally Robinson

By Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud
October 9, 2015

Couldn’t Join the Just Read Book Club- Don’t worry we’ll keep you updated~

Our first meeting was last week and we chose our text using a ‘preference consensus model’ which was super fascinating and actually quite quick! Katherine who wrote this week’s reading summary presented on all three texts, then we ruled out one text because two people were not interested in it. We then noted that the entire room was happy with either text that was left so we were negotiating on preference as opposed to discomfort with one of the choices. We landed on reading Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King  and here is this week’s update!

Chapter 1: Forget Colombus

Thomas King begins his book by delving into an alternate history, as we may know it. Most of us have been told a history through facts and myths woven together to form convenient stories, which we complacently take as truth. Thomas King explores a different side of history, the myths of history as well as untold facts that are not a part of our typical accounts of history. King notes “Most of us think that history is the past. It’s not. History is the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is. Stories. Such a definition might make the enterprise of history seem neutral. Benign. Which, of course, it isn’t. History may well be a series we tell about the past, but the stories are not just any stories. They’re not chosen by chance. By and large, the stories are about famous men and celebrated events.” We imagine history to be structured, chronicled, closely organized and agreed upon, yet King points out his difficulty in which stories become the pulse of history.

Instead of starting with Columbus, King says “Forget Columbus” and starts a new history in Almo, Idaho. Almo is not famous for much except the Indian massacre. Two hundred and ninety-five killed. There is a plaque in the town dedicated to this event. Astonishingly, he points out that although the story of the Indian Massacre in Almo Idaho is a good one, it quite simply didn’t happen. It is just a tale, which led to a historical fact. In no archives is there record of this massacre. Even after the massacre was discredited, the town didn’t want to remove the marker, saying that “it was a part of culture and history,” which at that point, in the town’s eyes, it was.

Another example of a fictional account of history is the story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith. King recounts the facts: “Smith does come to Virginia in 1607. He is most likely captured by the Powhatan people. Whether they want to kill him or not is a moot point. The reality is they don’t. He gets back to the colony in one piece, is injured in a gunpowder explosion, and returns to England in 1609. Did he know Pocahontas? There’s nothing to indicate that he did. Did he have a relationship with her as the Disney folks suggest in their saccharine jeu d’esprit? Well, at the time of the supposed meeting, Smith would have been twenty-seven and Pocahontas would have been about ten, maybe twelve years old. Possible, but not probable.” The story, as we have been told it, is too appealing to ignore, and so our history clings to the tale.

King goes on to talk about the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn. The story of Custard’s defeat has been told so many times, in so many ways, leading to a biased understanding of Custard’s Last Stand. There were many paintings after this event, yet none of the paintings are accurate depictions of what did happen. King states, “We don’t need the truth, we have the legend. And even if we were somehow able to know what transpired on that day in June of 1876, that knowledge would not set us free. As with John Smith and Pocahontas, we like the story of Custer’s Last Stand too much to ever give it up.”

Louis Riel’s story is somewhat longer beginning in 1869, which becomes known as the Red River Rebellion and ends with the 1885 North-West Rebellion. He spends about four pages outlining this account of history.

King ends the chapter by stating that “history encourages us to remember the hindrances that Native people posed to the forward momentum of European westward migration, even though Native people were more often an assistance, showing Europeans river systems and trade routes, taking them around the neighbourhood and introducing them to family and friends.” He brings this up because popular history focuses on the trouble Native people have caused questioning their intent and morals. He goes on to say “The sad truth is that, within the public sphere, within the collective consciousness of the general populace, most of the history of Indians in North America has been forgotten, and what we are left with is a series of historical artefacts and, more importantly, is somewhat akin to a fossil hunt…In the end who really needs the whole Native history when we can watch the movie?”

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