An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Book - 2014
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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 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.
Publisher: Boston : Beacon Press, [2014]
ISBN: 9780807000403
Branch Call Number: 970.0049 DUNBAR-O
Characteristics: xiv, 296 pages ; 24 cm.


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From Library Staff

The ultimate re-telling of U.S. history. A must-read for everyone, but especially of interest in Lawrence and other communities that celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. (Note: audiobook available without holds on Hoopla)

From the critics

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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.

spinely45 Mar 28, 2015

Excellent book about what really happened to the indigenous peoples in the United States. Dunbar-Ortiz does not take the middle like other historians. This is a must read.


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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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