Thomas King · 266 pages
Rating: (5.8K votes)
“You know what they say. If at first you don't succeed, try the same thing again. Sometimes the effort is called persistence and is the mark of a strong will. Sometimes it's called perseveration and is a sign of immaturity. For an individual, one of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again in the same way and expecting different results. For a government, such behavior is called... policy.”
“While the hardware of civilization - iron pots, blankets, guns - was welcomed by Native people, the software of Protestantism and Catholicism - original sin, universal damnation, atonement, and subligation - was not, and Europeans were perplexed, offended, and incensed that Native peoples had the temerity to take their goods and return their gods.”
“Or, if you want the positive but somewhat callous view, you might wish to describe Christianity as the gateway drug to supply-side capitalism”
“History may well be a series of stories 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 throw in a couple of exceptional women every now and then, not out of any need to recognize female eminence, but out of embarrassment.”
“Ignorance has never been the problem. The problem was and continues to be unexamined confidence in western civilization and the unwarranted certainty of Christianity. And arrogance. Perhaps it is unfair to judge the past by the present, but it is also necessary.
If nothing else, an examination of the past—and of the present, for that matter—can be instructive. It shows us that there is little shelter and little gain for Native peoples in doing nothing. So long as we possess one element of sovereignty, so long as we possess one parcel of land, North America will come for us, and the question we have to face is how badly we wish to continue to pursue the concepts of sovereignty and self-determination. How important is it for us to maintain protected communal homelands? Are our traditions and languages worth the cost of carrying on the fight? Certainly the easier and more expedient option is simply to step away from who we are and who we wish to be, sell what we have for cash, and sink into the stewpot of North America.
With the rest of the bones.
No matter how you frame Native history, the one inescapable constant is that Native people in North America have lost much. We’ve given away a great deal, we’ve had a great deal taken from us, and, if we are not careful, we will continue to lose parts of ourselves—as Indians, as Cree, as Blackfoot, as Navajo, as Inuit—with each generation. But this need not happen. Native cultures aren’t 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. More than that, in the five hundred years of European occupation, Native cultures have already proven themselves to be remarkably tenacious and resilient.
That was heroic and uncomfortably inspirational, wasn’t it? Poignant, even. You can almost hear the trumpets and the violins. And that kind of romance is not what we need. It serves no one, and the cost to maintain it is too high.
So, let’s agree that Indians are not special. We’re not … mystical. I’m fine with that. Yes, a great many Native people have a long-standing relationship with the natural world. But that relationship is equally available to non-Natives, should they choose to embrace it. The fact of Native existence is that we live modern lives informed by traditional values and contemporary realities and that we wish to live those lives on our terms.”
“but most Canadians, like most Americans, have a shockingly poor grasp of their own history. Dates, people, the large and small nuances of events have all been reduced to the form and content of Classic Comics. This isn’t a complaint. It’s an acknowledgment that people are busy with other things and generally glance at the past only on holidays. Given our hectic schedules, the least I can do is to provide a little historical background so no one will feel left out when our story gets complicated.”
“A great many people in North America believe that Canada and the United States, in a moment of inexplicable generosity, gave treaty rights to Native people as a gift. Of course, anyone familiar with the history of Indians in North America knows that Native people paid for every treaty right, and in some cases, paid more than once. The idea that either country gave First Nations something for free is horseshit.”
“The yard consisted of grass and a Russian Olive tree, which was about the only kind of tree able to survive on the high prairies. Its thin, grey leaves made it look as though it were on the verge of dying, thereby fooling the elements and the bad weather into thinking that they didn't have to bother with something so spindly and bent, something so obviously on its last legs.”
“The fact is, the primary way that Ottawa and Washington deal with Native people is to ignore us. They know that the court system favors the powerful and the wealthy and the influential, and that, if we buy into the notion of an impartial justice system, tribes and bands can be forced through a long, convoluted, and expensive process designed to wear us down and bankrupt our economies.
Be good. Play by our rules. Don't cause a disturbance.”
“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 artifacts and, more importantly, a series of entertainments. As a series of artifacts, Native history is somewhat akin to a fossil hunt in which we find a skull in Almo, Idaho, a thigh bone on the Montana plains, a tooth near the site of Powhatan’s village in Virginia, and then, assuming that all the parts are from the same animal, we guess at the size and shape of the beast. As a series of entertainments, Native history is an imaginative cobbling together of fears and loathings, romances and reverences, facts and fantasies into a cycle of creative performances, in Technicolor and 3-D, with accompanying soft drinks, candy, and popcorn.
In the end, who really needs the whole of Native history when we can watch the movie?”
“historians are not often appreciated because their research tends to destroy myths. I”
“And then there was the sad sign that a young woman working at a Tim Hortons in Lethbridge, Alberta, taped to the drive-through window in 2007. It read, “No Drunk Natives.”
Accusations of racism erupted, Tim Hortons assured everyone that their coffee shops were not centres for bigotry, but what was most interesting was the public response. For as many people who called in to radio shows or wrote letters to the Lethbridge Herald to voice their outrage over the sign, there were almost as many who expressed their support for the sentiment. The young woman who posted the sign said it had just been a joke.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that drunks are a problem. But I lived in Lethbridge for ten years, and I can tell you with as much neutrality as I can muster that there were many more White drunks stumbling out of the bars on Friday and Saturday nights than there were Native drunks. It’s just that in North America, White drunks tend to be invisible, whereas people of colour who drink to excess are not.
Actually, White drunks are not just invisible, they can also be amusing. Remember how much fun it was to watch Dean Martin, Red Skelton, W. C. Fields, John Wayne, John Barrymore, Ernie Kovacs, James Stewart, and Marilyn Monroe play drunks on the screen and sometimes in real life? Or Jodie Marsh, Paris Hilton, Cheryl Tweedy, Britney Spears, and the late Anna Nicole Smith, just to mention a few from my daughter’s generation. And let’s not forget some of our politicians and persons of power who control the fates of nations: Winston Churchill, John A. Macdonald, Boris Yeltsin, George Bush, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Hard drinkers, every one.
The somewhat uncomfortable point I’m making is that we don’t seem to mind our White drunks.
They’re no big deal so long as they’re not driving. But if they are driving drunk, as have Canada’s coffee king Tim Horton, the ex-premier of Alberta Ralph Klein, actors Kiefer Sutherland and Mel Gibson, Super Bowl star Lawyer Milloy, or the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mark Bell, we just hope that they don’t hurt themselves. Or others.
More to the point, they get to make their mistakes as individuals and not as representatives of an entire race.”
“We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.”
“Where do you begin telling someone their world is not the only one? —Lee Maracle, Ravensong”
“To be sure, they have had the occasional success, but there is little chance that North America will develop a functional land ethic until it finds a way to overcome its irrational addiction to profit.”
“The fact of Native existence is that we live modern lives informed by traditional values and contemporary realities and that we wish to live those lives in our terms.”
“More to the point, they get to make their mistakes as individuals and not as representatives of an entire race.”
“Indians were made for film. Indians were exotic and erotic. All those feathers, all that face paint, the breast plates, the bone chokers, the skimpy loincloths, not to mention the bows and arrows and spears, the war cries, the galloping horses, the stern stares, and the threatening grunts. We hunted buffalo, fought the cavalry, circled wagon trains, fought the cavalry, captured White women, fought the cavalry, scalped homesteaders, fought the cavalry. And don't forget the drums and the wild dances where we got all sweaty and lathered up, before we rode off to fight the cavalry.”
“Dans notre monde bien protégé et si moderne, il n'y a plus de fautifs, plus de fautes non plus. Des incursions ruineuses comme celles de Cuba, du Vietnam, de l'Irak et de l'Afghanistan ne sont plus le fait d'un seul responsable. Par un tour de passe-passe bien pensé, notre propagande donne à croire que les gens et les pays que nous attaquons ont provoqué notre agression.”
“Si vous ne voulez lire qu'un seul livre sur la bataille de Little Bighorn, je vous recommande Son of the Morning Star d'Evan Connell. L'auteur ne fait grâce à personne, Peau-Rouge ou visage pâle. Il a compris, lui, que l'enjeu de la bataille n'était pas la fierté nationale d'une nation émergente ou la recherche de la gloire personnelle. Il s'agissait seulement de tuer son prochain. Il a compris que, dès que commence la tuerie, que ce soit dans la plaine du Montana ou le désert de l'Irak, tout le monde se retrouve avec du sang sur les mains.”
“How important is it for us to maintain protected communal homelands? Are our traditions and languages worth the cost of carrying on the fight? Certainly the easier and more expedient option is simply to step away from who we are and who we wish to be, sell what we have for cash and sink into the stewpot of North America.”
“In the U.S. Articles of Confederation, the federal government gave itself the exclusive right to regulate “the trade and managing all affairs with the Indians.” This power was repeated in the 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act, which further refined “trade” and “affairs” to include the purchase and sale of Indian land.
The intent of these two pieces of legislation was clear. Whatever powers states were to have, those powers did not extend to Native peoples.
Beginning in 1823, there would be three U.S. Supreme Court decisions—Johnson v. McIntosh, Cherokee v. Georgia, Worcester v. Georgia—that would confirm the powers that the U.S. government had unilaterally taken upon itself and spell out the legal arrangement that tribes were to be allowed.
1823. Johnson v. McIntosh. The court decided that private citizens could not purchase land directly from Indians. Since all land in the boundaries of America belonged to the federal government by right of discovery, Native people could sell their land only to the U.S. government. Indians had the right of occupancy, but they did not hold legal title to their lands.
1831. Cherokee v. Georgia. The State of Georgia attempted to extend state laws to the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee argued that they were a foreign nation and therefore not subject to the laws of Georgia. The court held that Indian tribes were not sovereign, independent nations but domestic, dependent nations.
1832. Worcester v. Georgia. This case was a follow-up to Cherokee v. Georgia. Having determined that the Cherokee were a domestic, dependent nation, the court settled the matter of jurisdiction, ruling that the responsibility to regulate relations with Native nations was the exclusive prerogative of Congress and the federal government.
These three cases unilaterally redefined relationships between Whites and Indians in America. Native nations were no longer sovereign nations. Indians were reduced to the status of children and declared wards of the state. And with these decisions, all Indian land within America now belonged to the federal government. While these rulings had legal standing only in the United States, Canada would formalize an identical relationship with Native people a little later in 1876 with the passage of the Indian Act. Now it was official. Indians in all of North America were property.”
“...writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”
“...the [Hawthorn] report revealed the logical fallacy that has haunted Indian history and policy in North America since contact - to wit, that all people yearn for the individual freedom to pursue economic goals. Indians are people, ergo, they want to make money and create wealth for themselves and their families.”
“He felt the guilt of inaction, of simply waiting while his life went to waste. No one was worth the gift of his life, no one could possibly be worth that. It belonged to him alone, and he did not deserve it either, because he was letting it waste. It was getting away from him and he made no effort to stop it. He did not know how.”
“You couldn't catch a yawn from someone you didn't like.”
“That was the first time I realized my life was no longer my own.”
“There are choices in life which you are aware, even as you make them, cannot be undone; choices after which, once made, things will never be the same. There is that moment when you can still walk away, but if you do, you will never know what might have been. Saint Paul on the road to Damascus might have pleaded sunstroke, for example, and the world would have been a different place. Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar might have decided he was outnumbered and fled under full sail to fight another day. I thought for a few moments about these two instances, and then I knocked on Miss Fawlthorne’s door. The hollow sound of knuckles on wood echoed ominously from the”
“Soon enough it will be me struggling (valiantly?) to walk - lugging my stuff around. How are we all so brave as to take step after step? Day after day? How are we so optimistic, so careful not to trip and yet do trip, and then get up and say O.K. Why do I feel so sorry for everyone and so proud?”
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