An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Book - 2014
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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 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 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. 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."
Publisher: Boston : Beacon Press, [2014]
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780807000403
Characteristics: xiv, 296 pages ; 24 cm


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Mar 16, 2021

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides us with a much needed antidote to the plague of nationalist revisionist history which we've suffered under for far too long in the U.S. It's oft said that history is written by the victors, but seldom does one stop to examine if the victors were just, or tally the true cost of their "victory." I hope this is the American history being taught today, because it certainly isn't what I learned over the course of my education. This isn't a light read, or one that is easily processed, but it is an essential read, and one that needs to be heard.

Jan 15, 2021

I enthusiastically recommend this work by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. The book’s title is An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Dunbar-Ortiz’s work a is dramatically comprehensive history of the people who were here (the Indigenous) in the Americas when the colonial framework arrived in the United States in the sixteen hundreds.

This was the winner of the 2015 American Book Award and the 2015 Pen Oakland Award.

Reading it truly was very helpful to me as I broaden my understanding of history. I really appreciate the way Dunbar-Ortiz, as Bill Ayers, stated, “points a way beyond amnesia, paralyzing guilt, or helplessness for discovering our deepest humanity in a project of truth telling and repair.”

There is a lot of truth telling to be done to break the generally accepted myths around ‘savages’ needing to be tamed by violence or the threat of violence and needing to be force marched off land they lived on and schooled by settlers to remove their deep indigenous culture.

This is not an easy read. History is not a polished Disney story. It is, when it is solid, a comprehensive telling of what occurred as best known it the time of writing. The historical works cited are many. Dunbar-Ortiz is thorough in retelling the situations, treaties and there outcomes, and wars and genocides from a point of view that includes the realities of the Indigenous peoples. Thus, the book is sobering because the truth scatters the standard myths about the white man civilizing the Americas.

The Americas, including North America, were civilized long before the Europeans came to lay claim to the land that was inhabited by thriving civilizations.Three of the seven sites considered birth places of agriculture and thus - towns and cities across the world were in the Americas. These are historic and major sites for domestication of plants and stable communities in approximately 8500 BC. All three were based on corn. The American sites were in: the valley of Mexico and Central America, the south central Andes and South America, and eastern North America. This domestication of plants, specifically corn, allowed civilizations to become stable and grow.

I encourage all to read and learn from this book. From my perspective, the truth matters.

Jan 13, 2021

In my youth, I was an Indian hobbyist, an activity the “woke” would call an example of cultural appropriation. As I studied various tribes (nations), I was particularly affected by their religious beliefs. While Europeans had compartmentalized life, relegating religion to respective sabbaths or holy days, most of the indigenous Americans integrated religious beliefs into their everyday activities. This began a long path of distancing myself from the hobby and I now look back on those activities with some embarrassment.
The author covers much ground in this book, and I regret that one reviewer tried to consume all of it as an audiobook. Several of that reviewer’s misapprehensions could have been cleared up by having the hard pages available to retrace the author’s logic. Dunbar-Ortiz covers much the same ground as Wilkerson does in Caste, discussing the origins of concepts such as white supremacy. As early as the second chapter, she talks about accumulation, a concept basic to Perelman’s Invention of Capitalism. Perelman shows how land became individual property and how England became the colonial power it was. This book describes the effect of colonialism on the Western Hemisphere. Dunbar-Ortiz continues the analysis by claiming that the colonial model that the colonists overthrew was then exercised against the existing indigenous nations.
As in other works on racism, the need for land, the pressures of capitalism, the existing disparity of class and caste, and other causes came first. All of these resulted in finding indigenous nations to be inferior. And there were so many ways to show this inferiority. They weren’t capitalists, they didn’t use the land as Europeans did, they weren’t Christians. All of these “failings” rendered them as something less than human, certainly uncivilized. Therefore, they could (and should) be swept away so the superior group could make proper use of the continent. It has always amazed me that nominally ethical religionists could have worked in close tandem with an economic system with no roots in ethics or morality. Thus, we arrive at Manifest Destiny or white supremacy. The author’s poster boy for genocide and premier exponent of white supremacy is Andrew Jackson.
The author makes clear that Buffy Sainte-Marie was not in the least hyperbolic when she sang, “…the genocide basic to this country’s birth.” Dunbar-Ortiz follows her analysis of the methods used in colonial expansion across the continent with a look at America’s foreign adventures. Her point is that the lessons learned in “Indian fighting” have been used in other environments. While it might be easy to dismiss My Lai as aberrant action by an individual, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, a scorched earth assault on a civilian population, was directed at high levels of the military.
Her discussion of the origin of the term “unlawful combatant” was of great interest. The 1873 Modoc decision essentially determined that individuals defending their nation, their homes, or themselves, but who are not members of a recognized army, are unlawful combatants. It is impossible to succinctly state the flaws in this argument, but it allows the US to grab anybody anywhere, claim they are unlawful combatants and deny that they may instead be POWs.
There is much to digest in this book. I recommend a careful reading.

Aug 05, 2020

It has a lot of shocking and heart-rending information, and I am thankful that I have that information. For example, our dear R W Emerson hated war, all war - yet heartily supported annexation of all north American territory to the U.S. Cognitive dissonance rules even among the most insightful of us.

However, I am, overall, pretty disimpressed with her work.
It is disorganized, its chapters, and its rambling and circuitous coverage of specific material. The editing itself seems to have really missed a lot of errors and awkwardnesses.

Apart from what she does say, Dunbar doesn't cover in any meaningful way any of the initiatives that Indian nations took to normalize relationships with settlers and colonizers . She characterizes Indian actions as 'resistance' - Dunbar even characterizes Wovoka's Ghost Dance as 'resistance' to colonizers!
I know from reading "God's Red Son" that Wovoka urged the people of native nations to go to school, get jobs, earn money, and settle into a settler's way of life.

I really wanted to know about the practices of the Iroquois contributiing to the U.S. constitution, and about the Confederation of the Forty-Four of the Cheyenne and Arapaho (which was dealt a terrible blow by the Sand Creek Massacre), and about the councils held at Council Bluffs on the banks of the Missouri River. But nope. Not a word does Dunbar give us on any of these engagements where the Indians tried their best to survive among violent and difficult newcomers.

Disorganization example - Dunbar talks at some length about Buffalo Soldiers (... who, by the way, are not indigenous, but of African roots...) - and all of a sudden, she is talking about the Chicago railroad strike of 1877...!?!
Editing example - there is a reference to WWII action in the Pacific, and, after having referred to Guam, she refers to 'the Northern Mariana." Two problems here. The Northern Mariana Islands are referred to as 'the Northern Mariana Islands" or, in short, 'the Northern Marianas," and Guam is not a part of the Northern Mariana Islands (except geologically, all of them lying upon the Marianas Trench). (I lived in Guam 2 years, and that reference socked me in the eye.)
I'm not clear at all about the relevance of two major threads of her book, the foreign policy of the United States (which continues to be violent, militaristic, and colonial) and the savagery of any military encounter labeled 'war.'
I wanted to know about the indigenous experience - not the Guatemalan or the Iraqi experience. I'm sure that Guatemala and Iraq deserve some of my attention - but in this book? What's the point? Yes, Americans are mean and self serving. Everywhere. And war is hell. Civilians get brutalized. Always. None of this coverage in her book is helpful or meaningful. Worse, she seems to insert specific descriptions of individual depredations just to shock.
I googled for criticism of her and her work - and found nothing but good things being said about her and this book. Even an 11-page article in a literary publication was a positive review. Sigh.

I was expecting much more.

I'll look for something that gives a more complete look at this. Vine Deloria Jr springs to mind.

It seems to be so important for us to understand mare about this, since we live in the middle of so many Indian peoples and reservations here in southern Nevada.

PS. Really peeved me...
I listened to the book.
The reader pronounced "Kooba," the proper Cuban way of speaking - yet pronounced "Meksiko" !!!
Natives of Mexico City ,like a colleague of mine, definitely say "Mehiko."
Another gratuitous editing faux pas.
Maybe the reader could have said "New Meksico," because that's how it's said today in New Mexico, but Mexicans from Mexico today say "Mehiko." (Unless they're talking to white occupying colonizers...?)

Jun 26, 2018

It's not often you get to read history from the vanquished, so from that perspective it is an interesting read. But talk about the pot calling the kettle black,, Native Americans were vanquishing/ conquering/ committing genocide against each other long before the "white man" showed up, in fact they often helped "the white man" wage war upon their traditional enemies. A good book to give another perspective but it is no less propoganda than the traditional story.

Oct 08, 2017

Thought provoking, challenges narratives embedded in the media such as the "Wild West" by demonstrating that by the time European settlers arrived the land had been cultivated and tamed for human settlement for as long as the areas they had left. Also includes an interesting discussion of the history of US military tactics.

Jun 05, 2017

Although it purports to be a history, its more akin to a political diatribe using historical examples (of the 'they beat us, and then they beat us again' school) and expressed in an academic register (ie., using academic diction). She can't even help herself from referring to the Shoah (aka holocaust), and when she does, she makes a laughable blunder by referring to ovens used for killing (they were used for corpse disposal). The last eighty or so pages are obviously polemical: in the preceding parts, her prejudice only came out when she referred to a third generation descendant of a settler as "squatters". Even its moral argument is anti-chronological, for she uses the 1948 genocide convention to evaluate events from the preceding four centuries, rather than war norms (or even political philosophers) from times contemporaneous with those events (and there are lots: Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf, and many others). Her prejudice becomes most apparent on page 229, where she refers to a 'race to innocence' of...well, everyone who doesn't agree with her and is not wholly indigenous, saying that all people immigrants, children of recent immigrants, and those who are already citizens, all because they have "complicity in structures of domination and oppression". She doesn't bother to explain or justify how going to school, work, raising children, undertaking research, concern for justice, and engaging with the community are examples of complicity in oppression. Living one's life and doing well, and trying to do good is not obviously oppressive; going to school (and getting tertiary education fully paid for), work (getting a benefit of affirmative action for highly desirable public sector jobs), and the rest of life is not obviously being oppressed. The closest she comes to an explanation is that "they have not come to terms with the past". Perhaps one should consider why there is such an eager 'race to blame': its the accusers that bear the burden to make their case, not on everyone else to prove their innocence.

Oct 28, 2016

As a VERY PROUD Lakata/Celtic/Jew I want to read this ASAP. And, yes my background is strange, I know it, & I & the love of my life, bluejay don't care. And, she is a Russian/Romini<sp> Jew who loves me to pieces.....

Just read the Quotes & Ayn Rand is p!$$ed off & rolling in her grave right now & I am sure she has gotten an advance copy of this book from who I lovingly call, Grandpa Mel.....

Btw, like I always say, YMMV.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 05, 2016

An important book. It may not be the most riveting story of indigenous persecution (though it has turned me onto finding some of those works), but it is likely the most complete, relatively concise work on the subject.

Apr 21, 2015

A credible and thorough damning of the traditional American history of "manifest destiny" taught in our schools. I will grant that the book is biased and leaves out atrocities committed by the Indians, of which there were probably quite a few, but that does not outweigh the well documented systemic genocide that was perpetrated against first nation peoples. Unless you are talking about Antarctica any time I see the word settler, I recommend replacing it with invader or conqueror as that seems more appropriate. In trying to come up with evidence to disprove genocide I failed come up with any good argument against it being a fact. What public school teaches Indian languages? There is always mention of our founding fathers, but seldom is the wisdom of first nations peoples held up as valuable or even worthy of being mentioned. There is a sign in the local park that talks of the tribe that used to fish on the shores of the lake. They are not there any more. If there was no genocide then why are they not still there? What remnants there are of Indian culture are a tribute to the spirit of resistance. We can't make things right, but the very least we can do is acknowledge the truth of how we stole this land.

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Apr 01, 2021

"Spoken like a true descendant of old settlers. President Obama raised another key element of the national myth in an interview a few days later with Al Arabiya television in Dubai. Affirming that the United States could be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said: 'We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, American was not born as a colonial power.'
They affirmation of democracy requires the denial of colonialism, but denying it does not make it go away." - pages 115-116

Apr 21, 2015

The defect of the reservation system was apparent. It is socialist Henry George's system and under that there is no enterprise to make your home any better than your neighbors. There is no selfishness, which is at the bottom of civilization. Till this people consent to give up their lands, and divide among their citizen's so each can own the land he cultivates they will not make much progress. "Friend of the Indians" Senator Henry Dawes on the General Allotment Act of 1887 pg 158

Apr 21, 2015

Certainly they are a heartless nation. They have made some of their people servants- yes slaves... The greatest object of their lives seems to be to acquire possessions- to be rich. They desire to possess the whole world. For thirty years they were trying to entice us to sell them our land. Finally they outbreak gave them all and we have been driven away from out beautiful country. pg 136

Apr 21, 2015

The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp hunts: redskins. pg 65

Apr 21, 2015

We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religon, our education, our ways of life in order to help them to achieve our level of civiization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. pg 183 from the Proclamation of the Indians of all tribes


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