I keep seeing a common response to prejudiced comments on Idle No More articles is for people to "pick up a book". Well, when Thomas King’s newest book came out:my Aunt had to have it.So we went hunting for it.We went to Indigo.We knew it was a new release and it wasn’t in the new release section.The lady stocking shelves went and looked it up and took us to the Native Studies Section.We followed her to the back of the store.Then she showed us the single Native Studies shelf on a narrow bookcase.It was there.So was a couple other books I would never consider appropriate reading for anyone who wants to learn about Canadian First Nation, Metis and Inuit perspective.There were definitely books that should not ever make it onto a Native Studies shelf; they should be on the “Eugenics Resurrection” or “ 21st Century Social Darwinism” shelf.One of the biggest issues out there is that our great books are not on the shelves in mainstream bookstores.We know what the best reads are but it is usually through word of mouth or friends of friends recommending books.I want to give you some helpful hints about picking out text at your local bookstore.
Firstly, you have to ask does the Author have authority in the community to which they are writing about?Most of us will self-identify; not that self-identifying makes you an authority.Actually, if Patrick Brazeau or Rob Clarke or Leona Aglukkaq wrote a book; chances are that no one in the community would buy it to share with friends.Also, many great books are written by non-indigenous people who “get it”.We share those books, too.That is what I mean by authority: people who are known as willing to tell the truth without the pretention and demands that we move into the 21st Century because we are so backwards. Personally, I think that the Idle No More Movement has proved more than accurately that we are very well entrenched in the modern society and technologies, we just don’t feel the need to dump our culture.It is perfectly possible to be Indigenous and be in mastery over the same technologies available to us.
Secondly, you have to ask, what is the tone of this book?Is it romanticising the past?Is it perpetuating the myth of the “savage Indian” by constantly referring back to old sources that have no cultural sensitivity?Is it paternalistic?Is it just pure fiction?Who are the sources and are there any Indigenous people consulted?When I looked on that shelf...I gasped.Multiple copies of Tom Flanagan’s book, Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights.This is the current direction that the Harper Government is moving despite the historical pattern of destruction in the same legislative process in the United States.This book is from a paternalistic and privileged worldview.It marginalizes the Indigenous Voice and seeks to persuade people that the whole reason for our social problems is wrapped up neatly into the fact that First Nations do not own property.Really?So why do Metis and Inuit people have similar issues?Really? Why are those issues linked to the despair and depression associated with generational poverty, loss of identity and societal marginalization?Let’s just be real, Mr. Flanagan…how about you and your friends remove the barriers inherent in the Indian Act that restrict or crush economic developmentso that First Nations can start viable businesses? Why don’t you give the First Nations enough autonomy to govern their resources instead of administer all your bureaucracy.It ain’t about property ownership, it’s about making reserves so poor, so under serviced and so undesirable to live that “speculators” can come in and scoop up the land and resources.It is history repeating itself but if you say it right…if you say it convincingly enough…and you market the book to the majority and not the minority you want to exterminate…you can get away with verbal genocide.THIS BOOK IS NOT RECOMMENDED READING IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY WE ARE IDLE NO MORE.
The second book I saw was another red flag book within the community.Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation by Francis Widdowson and Albert Howard is another book that although it seems like it is doing a service; it is actually destructive.On the surface, it talks about the “Aboriginal Industry” that is self-serving and keeps finances from actually helping the people.This is absolutely true.Where this book goes horribly sideways is in that it describes our culture as backwards, useless and not worth saving.It speaks exactly opposite to what research proves works.Again, it is advocating cultural genocide and is marketed to non-aboriginal people who already believe in social Darwinism.THIS BOOK IS NOT RECOMMENDED READING IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY WE ARE IDLE NO MORE.
The third book I saw was about as far as I got.Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.This book was an American Best Seller and I use it in my professional development on Aboriginal Resources as an example of everything you could do wrong in choosing a book to learn anything about in the case of this book, Native American Comanches.Firstly, it is a two-fer.It both romanticizes the people while it vilifies them at the same time.Throughout the entire book, through use of sources he calls the Comanche people beautiful and savage.None of his sources are Comanche sources.All his sources are archived documents giving an outline of the external world view of the Comanche people.Just reading a few paragraphs out loud demonstrates very effectively exactly how damaging resources like that can be for any person from within that culture group to tune out.None of the information is within the context of the culture.It is a retelling of the same rhetoric and reinforcing stereotypes.There is no growing or learning when there isn’t a critical analysis of historical documentation that takes modern scholarship in Native Studies, Anthropology or Psychology into account.Otherwise it is just the same old marginalizing, patronizing crap that has been sources and resourced and goes no where. THIS BOOK IS NOT RECOMMENDED READING IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY WE ARE IDLE NO MORE…AND SHOULDN’T BE SOLD IN CANADIAN NATIVE STUDIES SECTIONS AT ALL.
That is as far as I got.I do want to mention one last trap…the new age trap.All I have to say about these books is…if you want access to our Elders and spiritual knowledge…there are no short cuts.We got to earn it…you got to earn it.
Now that I have outlined books that I personally do not recommend; I want to toss you a line.These are books and authors that I absolutely love.I may not agree with everything that they say…but I definitely believe that you will gain some valuable insight and will have a significant handle on many of the issues that make us Idle No More.
Absolute Classics of Native Studies
The Unjust Society: The Tragedy of Canadian Indians
Vine Deloria, Jr.
Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto
George Manuel, Michael Posluns
The Fourth World: An Indian Reality
The Dispossessed:Life and Death in Native Canada
A Coyote ColumbusStory
The Truth About Stories
A Short History of Indians in Canada
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account Of Native People In North America
Gerald Taiaiake Alfred
Peace, power, righteousness:an indigenous manifesto
Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom
Wordarrows: Indians and Whites in the New Fur Trade (Minnesota UP)
Crossbloods; Bone Courts, Bingo, and Other Reports (Minnesota UP)
Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance
Dancing on a Turtles Back
This is an Honour Song
Lighting the Eighth Fire – Edited Anthology
Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity
Suzanne Fornier and Ernie Crey
Stolen From Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities
Robin Jarvis Brownlie (Editor) and Valerie J. Korinek (Editor)
Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada
Mark Cronlund Anderson and Carmen L. Robertson
Seeing Red: A History of Natives in Canadian Newspapers
Taking Back Our Spirits: Indigenous Literature, Public Policy, and Healing
Linda Tuhiwai Smith
Decolonizing Methodologies: Researching and Indigenous Communities
Roland Chrisjohn and Sherri Young
The Circle Game: Shadow and Substance in the Residential School Experience in Canada