My Choice for Canada Reads 2015 – The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

Canada Reads 2015 promotional banner

What is the one book to break barriers? That’s the question that Canada Reads is asking us this year.

According to the CBC this year’s Canada Reads is “all about books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues”.

This year’s selections examine a wide range of topics from youth, aging, dying, sexuality, gender, and race, to immigration, war, conflict, escape, refugees, and colonization.

I am glad to have read all five of this year’s selections, but given the goal of breaking down barriers I believe The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King is the best book to do that for Canadians.

Canada remains a divided, racist place, largely ignorant to our own colonial history and resistant to acknowledging it, let along addressing it. I believe overcoming these barriers of ignorance and division is one of the most important struggles our communities face today. Issues around poverty, climate change, our economy, our health, and so on, are rooted in our colonial history and won’t be resolved without addressing it.

Personally, the education system completely failed at preparing me to grapple with these complex issues. Growing up in a rural Saskatchewan school system I recall a couple of history units in elementary school teaching us about tee-pees, pemmican and buffalo – mostly they were about colouring and crafting. In high school we had one chapter in our social studies textbook titled “Canada pre-1867” which basically just mentioned there were some people here before Canada was formed. There was no ‘native studies’, and we received no teaching on things such as treaties or residential schools. I didn’t even know what a residential school was until I attended university.

My experiences growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan weren’t much better for educating me – watching Dances with Wolves during summer TV re-runs, hearing racist jokes in the school yard and being told to lock one’s car doors when driving by the reserve, for instance. The attitude of many could be summed up in the title of the book, that ‘Indians’ were an “Inconvenience” left over from issues that in their minds were settled long ago.

This is why I think this book is so important for Canadians to read. One book will not overcome centuries of history, conflict and struggle, but Thomas King’s mix of humour, fact and storytelling makes for an enjoyable, enlightening read about a tough topic. It’s the best book I’ve read for settlers to learn from and to start breaking down those barriers.

I only wish I had such an illuminating book like this to read and open my mind when I was younger.

About the other selections:

And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier: This is one of my favourite novels I’ve read in a long time – beautifully written and a great read. If you enjoy stories of escape and self determination you’ll enjoy this novel. It is a timely story given the many debates happening around the ‘right to die’.

Ru by Kim Thúy: A short beautifully written, charming book. Tells the story of fleeing conflict and the struggle to fit in when in a new place. A good reminder of a time when Canada was generous to refugees fleeing conflict and of how much better we could be now.

Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee: A great insight to the modern history of much of the Middle East, told through the stories of Kamal and his family. Very timely given the fear based campaigning that’s happening in our country right now.

When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid: At times I found this often self-destructive story tough to read, but I am glad I did. As the author said in an interview “not every story is Anne of Green Gables”.

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