Thomas King's "The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative" is best defined as native polemic disguised as story-telling. However, the stories are so vastly entertaining, and King is so openly aware of his attack, that sitting as his audience is irresistible. His tales about native people, writings and political interactions are woven tightly with his diatribe, a comfortable blanket of uncomfortable words. Not a native blanket, however; King actively attacks the "traditional" picture of Indians.
Let Me Entertain You, White Man
King's stories entertain just as Indians -- he avoids the politically correct term "Native Americans" -- entertained the whites who discovered them. He details the life of Ishi, "the Wild Man of Oroville," found starving behind a California slaughterhouse, who became a local exhibit. King contrasts him with Will Rogers, the most popular entertainer in America in the early 1930s; millions heard his radio broadcasts without being aware of his Indian blood. King notes that Indians, when they weren't being despised, were amusing to whites, who considered them clowns to avoid calling them citizens.
What If God Was Cooperative?
King contrasts Christianity with tribal religions, noting that Indians were denied religious freedom when whites overran America; Christian conversion, and slavery, began with Columbus. He makes his anger palatable, however, by comparing Biblical creation to the tale of Charm, a sky-woman who lived on a turtle's back and created the world cooperatively with the animals; her native Adam and Eve were never punished for sin. Had white men allowed for a cooperative God, King reasons, they might not have thrust Yahweh, a punishing deity, upon the native consciousness. The native god, he says, is a truer, kinder father.
Not the Indians We Imagine
King's strongest theme is his analysis of our corrupt vision of Indians as a savage, dying race, all perceptions encouraged by white cultural analysts such as photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis, who deliberately dressed Indians in native trappings that he himself had brought, before photographing them. King also pours scorn on the idea that native writings, being oral, are less permanent than written history. As always, he tempers his anger with native stories, which are "wondrous things ... and dangerous." Far from dying, says King, Indian culture is very much alive through oral tradition.
White Coyote Tricks Indian Ducks
King reserves his most intense anger for a final discussion of the innumerable broken treaties and restrictive laws from white society, both Canadian and American, that natives have had to endure. Even here, it's a story: Trickster Coyote lies to the Ducks to steal their feathers. Native stories, for King, are not just traditions that temper his anger; they define him and his culture's struggles for identity and worth in the face of national oppression.
- The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative; Thomas King
- Mohican Press: Ishi: A Real Life "The Last of the Mohicans"
- The Manataka American Indian Council: Will Rogers' Overlooked Cherokee Roots
- ExplorePAhistory.com: Original Document: Iroquois Creation Story
- Northwestern University: Edward Sheriff Curtis: The North American Indian
- Oklahoma State University: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture: Oral Tradition, American Indian
- The New York Times: The Nation; Mending a Trail of Broken Treaties
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images