If Paul Chaat Smith ever needs another job—he's currently a curator at the National Museum of the American Indian—he would make an excellent stand-up comic. Unexpectedly, his latest book is a funny and painful collection of essays about a deeply serious subject: the ways in which Indian stereotypes infiltrate culture, damaging Indians and non-Indians alike. FULL REVIEW
Anyone who has been dissatisfied, to say the least—or confused and annoyed, to say the most—by a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian will be gratified by reading Paul Chaat Smith's Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong. Smith is a sharp-witted writer with the ability to mimic on paper a stand-up comedian's timing. He is also an NMAI associate curator. In this volume, however, he does not speak officially for NMAI. Rather, he speaks as an independent cultural critic whose lifetime of experience has convinced him that Indians and Indian issues are among the most difficult for both the world community and the news media to grasp. FULL REVIEW
Wonderful and frustrating… funny, easy to read, and touchingly honest.
By pulling together 24 brief essays into a single publication with a singularly provocative title, culture/art/politics critic Paul Chaat Smith is inviting engagement: engagement with readers, with cultural workers, with academics and perhaps most vigorously, with our understanding of the history of the Americas.
Amusing and enlightening.
The book is a nice, wild ride on Smith’s stream of consciousness as he shares his stories of an aching, but thankful heart.
With acerbic wit and unflinching honesty, social critic Smith offers a collection of essays that were written over approximately a 15-year period. It is an eclectic collection that chronicles the evolution of his views on the politics of being a Native American, beginning with his obvious naivete as a committed activist within the American Indian Movement to his present employment with the federal government. No target is safe from his pointed barbs, not even himself. The explanation of how quickly his views toward the creation of the NMAI changed when the practicality of needing employment entered the equation is alone worth the price of the book. In addition to being an entertaining read, this book gives one much to consider as Smith challenges many of the tropes that too many authors utilize when writing about native peoples.
It is an ability to see all aspects of complex issues that makes Smith's writing so intriguing, insightful and deeply disturbing. FULL REVIEW
While making sometimes heartening and at other times unsettling critical observations on conditions surrounding American Indians in historical and modern contexts, [Smith] conveys his observations in a casual, frequently funny and smart conversational form. Reading the book is almost like listening to a well seasoned, somewhat cynical old friend talking about something for which he deeply cares.
Non-natives charmed by The Education of Little Tree, Dances with Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, and Thunderheart, for starters, might find in Paul Chaat Smith's Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong a bracing wake-up call. FULL REVIEW
invites dialogue, debate, and dissent in a remarkably engaging and direct way.
Don’t let the title fool you. Instead of revealing the right answers, Smith’s collection of essays is likely to further confuse your ideas about North American Indians. Take the author himself: Smith—an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian and a card-carrying Comanche who worked with the American Indian Movement in the 1970s—has real Red Nation credentials. Then again, he grew up in suburban Maryland, likes to name essays after pop songs and seems to know more about movies and television than riding horses and shooting guns. While meeting our expectations of authenticity, Smith shows how romantic, if not racist, these expectations are by continually frustrating them with what initially appear to be extraneous details. For example, the NMAI’s official opening took place on the same day as the release of the 25th anniversary edition of The Clash’s London Calling. Why shouldn’t these historic cultural events collide? As Smith argues, Indians have always been part of popular culture, whatever their fate as people. Often the assorted pieces of trivia become part of an epic encounter, like Smith’s intertwining histories of White House swimming pools and the American Indian Movement of the 1970s.
A satisfyingly complex book… (that) maintains that although we are considered somehow primitive and simple we are actually oceans of terrifying complexity. …A recommendation with many stars after it. FULL REVIEW
In discussing photography, film, music, painting, mixed-media installation, and performance art, Smith comments upon technologies that historically have functioned to both mirror and manipulate while serving cathectic purposes for the capturer/creator. On these lines, Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong is itself a device that encourages readers to reassess their own relationships to and assumptions about the images they consume and the ones they produce. Smith achieves what he sets out to do: he presents a historically sweeping, pop-culture-saturated, biographically informed, intermittently winking series of questions.
This book achieves a balancing act that will be the envy of Indigenous authors, myself among them. Its articulate demonstration of the utter absurdities, past and present, of the culturally embedded representations of Native Americans charms rather than alienates… this is not to say that Smith’s essays will not challenge or confront its readers; they will. Rather, his expose uses razor sharp observations, clarity of language, self-deprecating authorial tone and clever juxtapositions of humour and tragedy to blunt the power to take umbrage as a dismissive response. The book makes its searing critique engaging and irrefutable. FULL REVIEW