Thomas King has won British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. He was awarded the $40,000 prize at a ceremony in Vancouver on Friday afternoon.
The jury, in its citation, called it a "wry, iconoclastic and important book that challenges us to think differently about both the past and the future."
"I loved it. It's a new way of looking at the [issue]," said Anna Porter, who sat on the jury along with Globe and Mail Books editor Jared Bland and Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham. They selected the book from more than 140 submissions. "He's able to make you see things with different eyes and I think that is the hallmark of a truly outstanding book," Porter added.
In The Inconvenient Indian, King unleashes his trademark humour on a seriously unfunny subject: the unconscionable treatment of First Nations and native Americans in Canada and the United States – massacres that have been wiped from memory and history books, the removal of people from their land and residential schools.
He debunks historical legends (readers will never think of Custer's Last Stand the same way), rails against systemic racism, and pokes holes and fun at the portrayal of First Nations in popular and consumer culture (everything from Pocahontas to Land O' Lakes butter).
The writing is accessible, infused with personality and wit.
"It is history but it's also personal and it's very dramatic," says Porter, a legendary Canadian publisher and award-winning author herself. "And I think his analysis is bang-on.… It's a new way of looking at where we are, and where we are is not so great."
King, 70, was born in California, of Cherokee and Greek heritage. Now based in Guelph, Ont., he's an award-winning novelist., created The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour for CBC Radio, and delivered the Massey Lectures in 2003.
His book was also a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction, and is on the short list for the RBC Taylor Prize (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize), which will be awarded next month.
The other finalists for the B.C. award were Carolyn Abraham for The Juggler's Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us; J.B. MacKinnon for The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be; Margaret MacMillan for The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914; and Graeme Smith for The Dogs Are Eating Them Now: Our War in Afghanistan, which earlier won the Weston Prize. Each finalist received $2,500.
The prize, open to Canadian authors, was launched in 2005 by the British Columbia Achievement Foundation.