An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

BOOK: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“In this riveting book, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz decolonizes American history and illustrates definitively why the past is never very far from the present. Exploring the borderlands between action and narration—between what happened and what is said to have happened—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. Best of all, she points a way beyond amnesia, paralyzing guilt, or helplessness toward discovering our deepest humanity in a project of truth-telling and repair.
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
will forever change the way we read history and understand our own responsibility to it.”


“Dunbar-Ortiz provides a historical analysis of the US colonial framework from the perspective of an Indigenous human rights advocate. Her 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.”

Native Hawai‘ian international law expert on Indigenous peoples' rights and former Kia Aina (prime minister) of Ka La Hui Hawai‘i

“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.”

PhD, activist and author of
For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
is a fiercely honest, unwavering, and unprecedented statement, one that 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 inspires 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!”

Regents Professor of English and American Indian Studies, Arizona State University

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
provides an essential historical reference for all Americans. Particularly, it serves as an indispensable text for students of all ages to advance their appreciation and greater understanding of our history and our rightful place in America. The American Indians' perspective has been absent from colonial histories for too long, leaving continued misunderstandings of our struggles for sovereignty and human rights.”

former president of the Navajo Nation

“This may well be the most important US history book you will read in your lifetime. If you are expecting yet another ‘new' and improved historical narrative or synthesis of Indians in North America, think again. Instead Roxanne 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.”

author of
Freedom Dreams

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes a masterful story that relates what the Indigenous peoples of the United States have always maintained: against the settler US 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 US and demand justice as well as the realization of sovereignty on their own terms.”

associate professor of American studies, University of New Mexico, and author of
Reclaiming Diné History

“In her in-depth and intelligent analysis of US history from the Indigenous perspective, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz challenges readers to rethink the myth that Indian lands were free lands and that genocide was a justifiable means to a glorious end. A must-read for anyone interested in the truth behind this nation's founding and its often contentious relationship with indigenous peoples.”

PhD, Jicarilla Apache author, historian, and publisher of
Tiller's Guide to Indian Country

“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
should be essential reading in schools and colleges. It 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.”

author of
The Poorer Nations


The Great Sioux Nation: An Oral History of the Sioux Nation and Its Struggle for Sovereignty

Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico

Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War

Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–1975

Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie


A Queer History of the United States
by Michael Bronski

A Disability History of the United States
by Kim E. Nielsen






Howard Adams (1921–2001)

Vine Deloria Jr. (1933–2005)

Jack Forbes (1934–2011)


Author's Note


This Land


Follow the Corn


Culture of Conquest


Cult of the Covenant


Bloody Footprints


The Birth of a Nation


The Last of the Mohicans and Andrew Jackson's White Republic


Sea to Shining Sea


“Indian Country”


US Triumphalism and Peacetime Colonialism


Ghost Dance Prophecy: A Nation Is Coming


The Doctrine of Discovery


The Future of the United States


Suggested Reading


Works Cited



As a student of history, having completed a master's degree and PhD in the discipline, I am grateful for all I learned from my professors and from the thousands of texts I studied. But I did not gain the perspective presented in this book from those professors or studies. This came from outside the academy.

My mother was part Indian, most likely Cherokee, born in Joplin, Missouri. Unenrolled and orphaned, having lost her mother to tuberculosis at age four and with an Irish father who was itinerant and alcoholic, she grew up neglected and often homeless along with a younger brother. Picked up by authorities on the streets of Harrah, Oklahoma, the town to which their father had relocated the family, she was placed in foster homes where she was abused, expected to be a servant, and would run away. When she was sixteen, she met and married my father, of Scots-Irish settler heritage, eighteen, and a high school dropout who worked as a cowboy on a sprawling cattle ranch in the Osage Nation. I was the last of their four children. As a sharecropper family in Canadian County, Oklahoma, we moved from one cabin to another. I grew up in the midst of rural Native communities in the former treaty territory of the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Nations that had been allotted and opened to settlers in the late nineteenth century. Nearby was the federal Indian boarding school at Concho. Strict segregation ruled among the Black, white, and Indian towns, churches, and schools in Oklahoma, and I had little interchange with Native people. My mother was ashamed of being part Indian. She died of alcoholism.

In California during the 1960s, I was active in the civil rights, anti-apartheid, anti–Vietnam War, and women's liberation movements, and ultimately, the pan-Indian movement that some labeled
Red Power. I was recruited to work on Native issues in 1970 by the remarkable Tuscarora traditionalist organizer Mad Bear Anderson, who insisted that I must embrace my Native heritage, however fragile it might be. Although hesitant at first, following the Wounded Knee siege of 1973 I began to work—locally, around the country, and internationally—with the American Indian Movement and the International Indian Treaty Council. I also began serving as an expert witness in court cases, including that of the Wounded Knee defendants, bringing me into discussions with Lakota Sioux elders and activists. Based in San Francisco during that volatile and historic period, I completed my doctorate in history in 1974 and then took a position teaching in a new Native American studies program. My dissertation was on the history of land tenure in New Mexico, and during 1978–1981 I was visiting director of Native American studies at the University of New Mexico. There I worked collaboratively with the All Indian Pueblo Council, Mescalero Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, and the Dinébe'iiná Náhiilna be Agha'diit'ahii (DNA) People's Legal Services, as well as with Native students, faculty, and communities, in developing a research institute and a seminar training program in economic development.

I have lived with this book for six years, starting over a dozen times before I settled on a narrative thread. Invited to write this ReVisioning American History series title, I was given parameters: it was to be intellectually rigorous but relatively brief and written accessibly so it would engage multiple audiences. I had grave misgivings after having agreed to this ambitious project. Although it was to be a history of the United States as experienced by the Indigenous inhabitants, how could I possibly do justice to that varied experience over a span of two centuries? How could I make it comprehensible to the general reader who would likely have little knowledge of Native American history on the one hand, but might consciously or unconsciously have a set narrative of US history on the other? Since I was convinced of the inherent importance of the project, I persisted, reading or rereading books and articles by North American Indigenous scholars, novelists, and poets, as well as unpublished dissertations, speeches, and testimonies, truly an extraordinary body of work.

I've come to realize that a new periodization of US history is needed that traces the Indigenous experience as opposed to the following standard division: Colonial, Revolutionary, Jacksonian, Civil War and Reconstruction, Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age, Overseas Imperialism, Progressivism, World War I, Depression, New Deal, World War II, Cold War, and Vietnam War, followed by contemporary decades. I altered this periodization to better reflect Indigenous experience but not as radically as needs to be done. This is an issue much discussed in current Native American scholarship.

I also wanted to set aside the rhetoric of race, not because race and racism are unimportant but to emphasize that Native peoples were colonized and deposed of their territories as distinct peoples—hundreds of nations—not as a racial or ethnic group. “Colonization,” “dispossession,” “settler colonialism,” “genocide”—these are the terms that drill to the core of US history, to the very source of the country's existence.

The charge of genocide, once unacceptable by establishment academic and political classes when applied to the United States, has gained currency as evidence of it has mounted, but it is too often accompanied by an assumption of disappearance. So I realized it was crucial to make the reality and significance of Indigenous peoples' survival clear throughout the book. Indigenous survival as peoples is due to centuries of resistance and storytelling passed through the generations, and I sought to demonstrate that this survival is dynamic, not passive. Surviving genocide, by whatever means,
resistance: non-Indians must know this in order to more accurately understand the history of the United States.

BOOK: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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