Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian offers a penetrating, provocative look at the history of North American Indian-white relations in North America. It focuses on government efforts to remove and relocate Native peoples and white efforts to exterminate and assimilate them. It contrasts popular perceptions of what King calls “Dead Indians,” the romantic reminders of a largely fictional past (“dignified, noble, silent, suitably garbed”), and “Live Indians,” contemporary and contemptible (“invisible, unruly, disappointing”). And, to explain the complexities of Native resistance and reinvention, it offers a concluding chapter titled “What Indians Want.”
Read. Reflect. Engage.
A Note from Loren Ghiglione, One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair
Is the name of John Evans on a room in the Norris University Center the best Northwestern can do to educate the University community?
As the 2015-16 One Book comes to a close and Tuesday’s panel on “Revisiting Johns Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre” approaches, I find myself rereading the book selected for the year, Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian.
King writes Native history in North America hasn’t really been about Native people. It has been about what non-Natives want: “Sure, Whites want Indians to disappear, and they want Indians to assimilate, and they want Indians to understand that everything that Whites have done was for their own good because Native people, left to their own devices, couldn’t make good decisions for themselves.”
While King says all that’s true, from a white point of view at least, he concludes that the key issue is land. Whites have wanted Native peoples’ land. “Land,” King writes. “If you understand nothing else about the history of Indians in North America, you need to understand that the question that really matters is the question of land.”
I’m told the social justice committee of the Norris Center proposed the Evans Room be renamed for the Potawatomi, who once populated the Illinois shores of Lake Michigan and established villages in what is now Evanston. I’m also told the University rejected replacing Evans’s name with Potawatomi. So the room continues to honor Evans as a founder of Evanston as well as Northwestern, celebrating the plan of Evans and Andrew Brown for “laying out wider streets, adding parks, and renaming the town.”
What if Northwestern renamed the room “Land”? That would leave people curious and provide an opportunity to tell important stories about, for example: the five treaties from 1795 to 1833 that forced the Potawatomi to cede all of their lands to the United States; the subsequent history of the land that became the Northwestern campus; the University’s purchase from Illinois of 152 acres of Lake Michigan at $100 per acre and construction of a new lake-fill campus in the early 1960s.
So when I attend Tuesday’s “Revisiting John Evans and the Sand Creek Massacre” panel, 4:30-6 pm, Norris University Center, Wildcat Room, I’ll be thinking about the 150 to 230 children, women and elderly massacred and mutilated. But I’ll also be thinking about land in Evanston and Colorado. In Massacre at Sand Creek, historian Gary Roberts writes about Evans making “a fortune on railroad and land deals involving Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ute lands.”
Roberts describes the post-Civil War West—“the sheer volume of settlers, the industrial growth of the country, the railroads, and the conviction of white Americans that taking the land was the right thing to do….And when it was done, whites looked over what they had built and, like God at Creation, declared that it was good.”
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Medill Professor of Journalism, 2015-16 One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair
Senior Program Coordinator One Book, One Northwestern