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From The University of Minnesota Press
Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong
By Paul Chaat Smith
192 pp. / 5.375 x 8.5 / 2009
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In this sweeping work of memoir and commentary, leading cultural critic Paul Chaat Smith illustrates with dry wit and brutal honesty the contradictions of life in "the Indian business."

"Paul Chaat Smith pulls no punches and delivers not a few body blows. Smith's clear and at times sardonic voice expresses everything Indians might have wanted to say but up to now didn't feel they could."
— Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator, Museum of Arts and Design

"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."
— Win Awenen Nisototung

"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 National Museum of the American Indian 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."
— Library Journal


Raised in suburban Maryland and Oklahoma, Smith dove head first into the political radicalism of the 1970s, working with the American Indian Movement until it dissolved into dysfunction and infighting. Afterward he lived in New York, the city of choice for political exiles, and eventually arrived in Washington, D.C., at the newly minted National Museum of the American Indian ("a bad idea whose time has come") as a curator. In his journey from fighting activist to federal employee, Smith tells us he has discovered at least two things: there is no one true representation of the American Indian experience, and even the best of intentions sometimes ends in catastrophe.

Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong is a highly entertaining and, at times, searing critique of the deeply disputed role of American Indians in the United States. In "A Place Called Irony," Smith whizzes through his early life, showing us the ironic pop culture signposts that marked this Native American's coming of age in suburbia: "We would order Chinese food and slap a favorite video into the machine--the Grammy Awards or a Reagan press conference--and argue about Cyndi Lauper or who should coach the Knicks." In "Lost in Translation," Smith explores why American Indians are so often misunderstood and misrepresented in today's media: "We're lousy television." In "Every Picture Tells a Story," Smith remembers his Comanche grandfather as he muses on the images of American Indians as "a half-remembered presence, both comforting and dangerous, lurking just below the surface."

Smith walks this tightrope between comforting and dangerous, offering unrepentant skepticism and, ultimately, empathy. "This book is called Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong, but it's a book title, folks, not to be taken literally. Of course I don't mean everything, just most things. And 'you' really means we, as in all of us."



About Paul Chaat Smith

Paul Chaat Smith is associate curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. He is the coauthor, with Robert Warrior, of Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. Learn More