A Short History of Indians in Canada by Thomas King (HarperCollins), 232 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The great delight of Thomas King's Short History is that it seems to put into print, destined for a big audience, material you might hear when Canada's native elder intelligensia are joking around a campfire or coffee table. King's satire is based on core concerns like the land-stealing and assimilationist thrust of the Indian Act and the dislocation of wildlife from the boreal forest via clear-cutting and road-building.
Like a sage, he combines spiritual eco-reverence with anti-racism and intense Canadian nationalism.
This mix of native wisdom and patriotism in effect adds up to a critique of the American dream. While his comedy might disturb those who think it's unwise to make light of Canada's shameful racist past, I see King as a shaman-jester who provides a much-needed antidote to the darker side of our national history.
While the racism of the oppressed receives plenty of scorn in The Baby (White) In The Airmail Box, the most memorable essay is Coyote And Enemy Aliens, an account of the second world war internment of Japanese Canadians and the confiscation of their property.
It's ironic that this book makes King a good candidate for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. Though Leacock was a left-wing Canadian nationalist who inspired prime minister R.B. Bennett's last-minute New Deal, he was an outrageous racist and even applauded the beating of striking black African miners.
Awarding the medal to King would be proper redress for this ignoble aspect of Leacock's legacy.