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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
Cover of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
Now part of the HBO docuseries "Exterminate All the Brutes," written and directed by Raoul Peck
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.
With growing support for movements such as the campaign to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the Dakota Access Pipeline protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is an essential resource providing historical threads that are crucial for understanding the present. 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.
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is a 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature.
Now part of the HBO docuseries "Exterminate All the Brutes," written and directed by Raoul Peck
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.
With growing support for movements such as the campaign to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the Dakota Access Pipeline protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is an essential resource providing historical threads that are crucial for understanding the present. 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.
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is a 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature.
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Excerpts-
  • Introduction 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...
About 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.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 20, 2009
    Boston University law professor Wexler is also a published humorist. This felicitous combination of talents is put to good use as he visits the towns and cities where the always controversial cases concerning separation of church and state arise. Wexler’s lucid explications of difficult constitutional concepts and the vagaries of Supreme Court rulings are superb, providing readers a deeper understanding of the First Amendment and Supreme Court jurisprudence. But that’s only half the story. Wexler is laugh-out-loud funny as he narrates his odyssey through battleground sites from rural Wisconsin through Texas to the chambers of the U.S. Senate. Along the way he happily and with a usually generous spirit skewers Supreme Court justices, legislators, educators, law school professors and pretty much anyone else, including himself, who has ever taken a position on the enduring American controversies surrounding prayer in schools, religious displays on public property, or the teaching of evolution. This is a rare treat, a combination of thoughtful analysis and quirky humor that illuminates an issue that rarely elicits a laugh—and that is central to the American body politic.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 2, 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.

  • Kirkus

    September 15, 2014
    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-a-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.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    July 1, 2014

    Dunbar-Ortiz's (Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie) polemic is purportedly the first history of the United States written from an indigenous perspective. The book is framed around the theory that America is a "colonial settler state" that endeavors to subjugate its enemies through warfare that ends with the nation demanding that its defeated opponents "surrender unconditionally or face annihilation." With the book's foundation established from the beginning, the author is thus freed to pick and choose the data that supports the predetermined conclusion. Without a doubt, there are some episodes in the history of the United States's treatment of native peoples that rose to the level of genocide, but to say that the government employed mass killings as a consistent policy is debatable. That claim denies the agency that many Native American groups exerted throughout their dealings with the government. Also, the theory-guided narrative strains credulity when the author makes the case that what happened to the native peoples within the boundaries of the present-day United States is the same as what is currently occurring in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places where the U.S. military is engaged. VERDICT Not recommended.--John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    September 1, 2014
    Dunbar-Ortiz, Native American studies scholar and longtime American Indian Movement member, offers a radical rewrite of traditional U.S. history up to and including the five wars waged since WWII, a history, she explains, based on settler colonialism, or 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. As part of the long-established Columbus myth, colonial settlers saw themselves as part of a worldwide system of colonization, while, simultaneously, land in this country went from being sacredas it was for the indigenousto being a commodity to be bought and sold. Dunbar-Ortiz doesn't end her litany of violence against the indigenous as part of this land grab with the Sand Creek Massacre or Wounded Knee, as do some postmodern surveys of U.S. history. Instead, she argues that the same strategies employed with the indigenous peoples on this continent were mirrored abroad in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq in 1991, Afghanistan, and Iraq again in 2003. Meticulously documented, this thought-provoking treatise is sure to generate discussion.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Booklist "Meticulously documented, this thought-provoking treatise is sure to generate discussion."
  • Publishers Weekly "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."
  • Simon J. Ortiz, Regents Professor of English and American Indian Studies, Arizona State University "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!"
  • Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of Reclaiming Diné History "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."
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