Over 200 students, recreational book club members and community members from local reserves gathered in the Senate and Board of Chambers room at Wilfrid Laurier University last Thursday evening to listen to Thomas King discuss his most recent book, The Inconvenient Indian.
In the third-year English course, titled “The Working Canadian Writer,” students are visited by the authors of the books they have studied. Michael Ackerman, this class’s professor, worked with Denojia Kankesan, the coordinator for general book and faculty relations, and Melissa Ireland, the Aboriginal student support coordinator for the office of aboriginal initiatives, to bring Thomas King to the Laurier campus.
“We couldn’t hold him to ourselves,” expressed Ackerman. Normally, the authors visit the classroom, but because of King’s popularity and success, they decided to open the event to the public.
“Looking at the content of the book, the rise of the movement, the importance of the political landscape and the rarity of getting him here, it made sense,” said Ackerman.
The drum group from the office of aboriginal initiatives opened up the event with a performance of a traditional song.
King opened up his discussion with reading two sections of his book and then concluding with a question and answer period.
His first reading discussed the residential schools and the complications and obstacles that Aboriginal people faced.
King then went on to discuss Alcatraz, the island that was occupied at the end of 1969 by a group of Aboriginal peoples who were participating in the national wave of Native activism.
King also took questions that focused specifically on a writer’s career and explained how he developed his drafts, how many pages he writes a day and why he liked writing fiction better.
“[In non-fiction], you are trapped by these things we call facts,” King expressed.
It took him six years to write The Inconvenient Indian, which broadly defines the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.
King deciphers the truth behind famous myths such as the Indian massacre that occurred in 1861, as well as discusses the significance of historical characters such as Pocahontas and John Smith.
“It was an overwhelming success,” Ireland said. “I think we raised awareness to the broader Laurier population.”
Sarah Sebele, a fourth-year student who is in the Working Canadian Writer class said that she enjoyed the event.
“He knows exactly what he wants to say and he says it,” she said. “He knows the issues and what he is talking about.”
An overwhelming applause and a backed up line for a book signing signaled that the crowd enjoyed what King had to say.
When asked about the Idle No More movement, an ongoing protest amongst Aboriginals and their non-Aboriginal supporters against the threat of their treaties, King replied that he liked the idea of the protest, but didn’t think it was enough.
“Right now is the worst period we’ve faced as people,” he expressed.
King raised his hope that one day, someone will stand above the fray and lead both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals to their rights and privileges, comparing this said leader to Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
He humorously concluded that he would not be that leader.
“I haven’t got the stamina, and I haven’t got the smarts,” King said.