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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
     

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

4.7 3
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
 

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2015 Recipient of the American Book Award

The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples
 
Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this

Overview

2015 Recipient of the American Book Award

The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples
 
Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire.

In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.”
 
Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Meticulously documented, this thought-provoking treatise is sure to generate discussion.”
Booklist

“What is fresh about the book is its comprehensiveness. Dunbar-Ortiz brings together every indictment of white Americans that has been cast upon them over time, and she does so by raising intelligent new questions about many of the current trends of academia, such as multiculturalism. Dunbar-Ortiz’s material succeeds, but will be eye-opening to those who have not previously encountered such a perspective.”
Publishers Weekly

“From the struggles against the early British settlers in New England and Virginia to the final catastrophes at Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, Dunbar-Ortiz never flinches from the truth.” 
—CounterPunch

“[An] impassioned history.... Belongs on the shelf next to Dee Brown’s classic, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“A must-read for anyone interested in the truth behind this nation’s founding.” 
Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, PhD, Jicarilla Apache author, historian, and publisher of Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country

“This may well be the most important US history book you will read in your lifetime. . . . Dunbar-Ortiz radically reframes US history, destroying all foundation myths to reveal a brutal settler-colonial structure and ideology designed to cover its bloody tracks.  Here, rendered in honest, often poetic words, is the story of those tracks and the people who survived—bloodied but unbowed. Spoiler alert: the colonial era is still here, and so are the Indians.”
Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams
 
“Dunbar Ortiz’s . . . assessment and conclusions are necessary tools for all Indigenous peoples seeking to address and remedy the legacy of US colonial domination that continues to subvert Indigenous human rights in today’s globalized world.”
Mililani B. Trask, Native Hawai‘ian international law expert on Indigenous peoples’ rights and former Kia Aina  (prime minister) of  Ka La Hui Hawai‘i 
 
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States provides an essential historical reference for all Americans. . . . The American Indians’ perspective has been absent from colonial histories for too long, leaving continued misunderstandings of our struggles for sovereignty and human rights.”
Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation
 
An Indigenous Peoples’ History . . . pulls up the paving stones and lays bare the deep history of the United States, from the corn to the reservations. If the United States is a ‘crime scene,’ as she calls it, then Dunbar-Ortiz is its forensic scientist. A sobering look at a grave history.”
Vijay Prashad, author of The Poorer Nations
 
“Justice-seekers everywhere will celebrate Dunbar-Ortiz’s unflinching commitment to truth—a truth that places settler-colonialism and genocide exactly where they belong: as foundational to the existence of the United States.”
Waziyatawin, PhD, activist and author of For Indigenous Minds Only

“Dunbar-Ortiz strips us of our forged innocence, shocks us into new awarenesses, and draws a straight line from the sins of our fathers—settler-colonialism, the doctrine of discovery, the myth of manifest destiny, white supremacy, theft and systematic killing—to the contemporary condition of permanent war, invasion and occupation, mass incarceration, and the constant use and threat of state violence.” —Bill Ayers

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is a fiercely honest, unwavering, and unprecedented statement, one which has never been attempted by any other historian or intellectual. The presentation of facts and arguments is clear and direct, unadorned by needless and pointless rhetoric, and there is an organic feel of intellectual solidity that provides weight and trust. It is truly an Indigenous peoples’ voice that gives Dunbar-Ortiz’s book direction, purpose, and trustworthy intention. Without doubt, this crucially important book is required reading for everyone in the Americas!”
—Simon J. Ortiz, Regents Professor of English and American Indian Studies, Arizona State University
 
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes a masterful story that relates what the Indigenous peoples of the United States have always maintained: Against the settler U.S. nation, Indigenous peoples have persevered against actions and policies intended to exterminate them, whether physically, mentally, or intellectually. Indigenous nations and their people continue to bear witness to their experiences under the U.S. and demand justice as well as the realization of sovereignty on their own terms.”
—Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of Reclaiming Diné History

Publishers Weekly
06/02/2014
American Indian activist and scholar Dunbar-Ortiz (The Great Sioux Nation) launches a full-bore attack on what she perceives as the glaring gaps in U.S. history about the continent’s native peoples. Professional historians have increasingly been teaching much of what Dunbar-Ortiz writes about, yet given what she argues is the vast ignorance of the Indigenous experience, there still remains a knowledge deficit that needs to be rectified. She describes the U.S. as “a colonialist settler state, one that, like the colonialist European states, crushed and subjugated the original civilizations in the territories it now rules.” The conventional national narrative, she writes, is a myth that’s “wrong or deficient, not in its facts, dates, or details but rather in its essence.” What is fresh about the book is its comprehensiveness. Dunbar-Ortiz brings together every indictment of white Americans that has been cast upon them over time, and she does so by raising intelligent new questions about many of the current trends of academia, such as multiculturalism. Dunbar-Ortiz’s material succeeds, but will be eye-opening to those who have not previously encountered such a perspective. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-08-18
Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism. Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz's (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn't been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while "Indian" isn't bad, since "[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian' a slur," "American" is due to the fact that it's "blatantly imperialistic." Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a "colonialist settler-state" (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then "displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated"—after, that is, having been forced to live in "concentration camps." Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won't question Dunbar-Ortiz's inaccurate assertion that the military phrase "in country" derives from the military phrase "Indian country" or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were "gold-obsessed." Furthermore, most readers won't likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term "Anasazi") sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn't entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe. A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807057834
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Publication date:
08/11/2015
Series:
ReVisioning American History Series , #3
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
312
Sales rank:
13,139
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction
This land
 
We are here to educate, not forgive.
We are here to enlighten, not accuse.
–Willie Johns, Brighton Seminole Reservation, Florida
 
Under the crust of that portion of Earth called the United States of America—“from California . . . to the Gulf Stream waters”—are interred the bones, villages, fields, and sacred objects of American Indians. They cry out for their stories to be heard through their descendants who carry the memories of how the country was founded and how it came to be as it is today.
 
It should not have happened that the great civilizations of the Western Hemisphere, the very evidence of the Western Hemisphere, were wantonly destroyed, the gradual progress of humanity interrupted and set upon a path of greed and destruction. Choices were made that forged that path toward destruction of life itself—the moment in which we now live and die as our planet shrivels, overheated. To learn and know this history is both a necessity and a responsibility to the ancestors and descendants of all parties.
 
What historian David Chang has written about the land that became Oklahoma applies to the whole United States: “Nation, race, and class converged in land.” Everything in US history is about the land—who oversaw and cultivated it, fished its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity (“real estate”) broken into pieces to be bought and sold on the market.
 
US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of colonialism—settler colonialism. As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe writes, “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism. Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life.”
 
The history of the United States is a history of settler colonialism— the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft. Those who seek history with an upbeat ending, a history of redemption and reconciliation, may look around and observe that such a conclusion is not visible, not even in utopian dreams of a better society.
 
Writing US history from an Indigenous peoples’ perspective requires rethinking the consensual national narrative. That narrative is wrong or deficient, not in its facts, dates, or details but rather in its essence. Inherent in the myth we’ve been taught is an embrace of settler colonialism and genocide. The myth persists, not for a lack of free speech or poverty of information but rather for an absence of motivation to ask questions that challenge the core of the scripted narrative of the origin story. How might acknowledging the reality of US history work to transform society? That is the central question this book pursues.
 
Teaching Native American studies, I always begin with a simple exercise. I ask students to quickly draw a rough outline of the United States at the time it gained independence from Britain. Invariably most draw the approximate present shape of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific—the continental territory not fully appropriated until a century after independence. What became independent in 1783 were the thirteen British colonies hugging the Atlantic shore. When called on this, students are embarrassed because they know better. I assure them that they are not alone. I call this a Rorschach test of unconscious “manifest destiny,” embedded in the minds of nearly everyone in the United States and around the world. This test reflects the seeming inevitability of US extent and power, its destiny, with an implication that the continent had previously been terra nullius, a land without people.
 
Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” celebrates that the land belongs to everyone, reflecting the unconscious manifest destiny we live with. But the extension of the United States from sea to shining sea was the intention and design of the country’s founders. “Free” land was the magnet that attracted European settlers. Many were slave owners who desired limitless land for lucrative cash crops. After the war for independence but preceding the writing of the US Constitution, the Continental Congress produced the Northwest Ordinance. This was the first law of the incipient republic, revealing the motive for those desiring independence. It was the blueprint for gobbling up the British-protected Indian Territory (“Ohio Country”) on the other side of the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Britain had made settlement there illegal with the Proclamation of 1763.
 
In 1801, President Jefferson aptly described the new settler-state’s intentions for horizontal and vertical continental expansion, stating: “However our present interests may restrain us within our own limits, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar laws.” This vision of manifest destiny found form a few years later in the Monroe Doctrine, signaling the intention of annexing or dominating former Spanish colonial territories in the Americas and the Pacific, which would be put into practice during the rest of the century.
 
Origin narratives form the vital core of a people’s unifying identity and of the values that guide them. In the United States, the founding and development of the Anglo-American settler-state involves a narrative about Puritan settlers who had a covenant with God to take the land. That part of the origin story is supported and reinforced by the Columbus myth and the “Doctrine of Discovery.” According to a series of late-fifteenth-century papal bulls, European nations acquired title to the lands they “discovered” and the Indigenous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europeans arrived and claimed it. As law professor Robert A. Williams observes about the Doctrine of Discovery:
 
Responding to the requirements of a paradoxical age of Re-
naissance and Inquisition, the West’s first modern discourses of conquest articulated a vision of all humankind united under a rule of law discoverable solely by human reason. Un-
fortunately for the American Indian, the West’s first tentative steps towards this noble vision of a Law of Nations contained a mandate for Europe’s subjugation of all peoples whose ra-
dical divergence from European-derived norms of right conduct signified their need for conquest and remediation.
 
The Columbus myth suggests that from US independence onward, colonial settlers saw themselves as part of a world system of colonization. “Columbia,” the poetic, Latinate name used in reference to the United States from its founding throughout the nineteenth century, was based on the name of Christopher Columbus. The “Land of Columbus” was—and still is—represented by the image of a woman in sculptures and paintings, by institutions such as Columbia University, and by countless place names, including that of the national capital, the District of Columbia. The 1798 hymn “Hail, Columbia” was the early national anthem and is now used whenever the vice president of the United States makes a public appearance, and Columbus Day is still a federal holiday despite Columbus never having set foot on any territory ever claimed by the United States.

Meet the Author

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book The Great Sioux Nation was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indigenous peoples of the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva. Dunbar-Ortiz is the author or editor of seven other books, including Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico. She lives in San Francisco.

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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Bellinghamstar More than 1 year ago
In examining the formation of the country, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, sheds strained euphemisms such as "expansionism" and "manifest destiny" and calls the deliberate conquest and destruction of the native peoples across the continent exactly what it was, genocide. Supported by an impressive array of indigenous and non-indigenous writers and historians, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz traces the coalescence of what would eventually be the United States to its undeniable source, "settler-colonialism." Methodically, the case is made that, from the beginning, killing native inhabitants or driving them out from their ancestral homes and replacing them with settlers was the primary method utilized by European invaders. Dunbar-Ortiz argues that the violent, systematic and unceasing dispossession of the indigenous peoples of North America was at its core driven by the insatiable greed for land. This book brings much needed balance the one-sided and triumphalist nationalistic myths that have prevailed for far too long in discussing the origins of the United States. Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz tells us clearly that the so-called winners of history don't always write the whole story and that the history that should and will endure is the truth. An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is an essential source of information to any serious student of history.
KhalidM More than 1 year ago
One the most insightful books on American history, and one that does not ignore the beginning of it. The legacy of settler colonialism can still be felt today; this book provides the lens to see through imperialist myth and nationalist discourse. Rich, critical, and an essential reading. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago