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."
And so this book is needed. The genocide, the broken treaties, the lies, the programs that blatantly dressed in the garments of unabashed racism (all of which continued much much longer than I had imagined)--all that is spelled out so clearly here. And I must sincerely thank the author for having the courage and insight to put it all on paper.
That said, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States reads a little too heavily like a textbook. And like other textbooks, it is a textbook with an agenda. In some ways, that's good, because we need a textbook that tells the other side of the story; but in the same way school textbooks imply that Indians are uncivilized brutes, An Indigenous Peoples' History... implies that the white man is savage and greedy. This angle doesn't bode well for a work that should educate, not finger point. In fact, this book does little to paint the indigenous people of North America as much more than victims; I would've appreciated learning more about their history sans the white man. If An Indigenous Peoples' History... is indeed meant to counter the school textbook, it is my feeling that it should stand as an anti-textbook and bear as little similarity to the textbook lies as possible.
Additionally, the book is repetitive at times, foreshadowing an event and then, when chronologically appropriate, retelling those details in almost the same words. Surely, this book would not have suffered from tighter editing.
Minor quibbles aside, this book is important. 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. Those interested in or who feel obligated to learn of the injustices perpetrated by the United States throughout history should consider this one an essential read.
I hope to keep reading in this area as the Native American dispossession and genocide involved in US history is obvious and yet difficult to grasp what it means to understand and see it clearly.
Peoples were colonized and deposed of their territories as distinct peoples, at least bordering on genocde and "settler colonialism". "Free" land attracted European settlers, reinforced by the "Columbus Myth" and the
She sets forth that that America was not a "New World". Indigenous
peoples of the Americas had cultivated an agriculture based on corn (which does not grow wild) and had vegetarian diets supplemented by wild figs, fowl, and 4 legged animals. She also contends that the Americas (including North America, Central America and South America were densely populated and actively traded with each other. Thus, "North America in 1492 was not a virgin wilderness".
A chapter entitled "Bloody Footprints" establishes the first introduction of "Scalping"
as a lucrative commercial practice for which colonist mercenaries were paid per scalp.
Stunningly, George Washington's orders regarding the destruction of the Iroquois stated:
"You will not by any means, listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected .....Our future will be in their inability to injure us .....and in the terror
with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them."I
My college history courses covered the expansion of the American, colonies Westward to the Mississippi River, but I was not prepared for the detailed history in chapter 5
covering the withdrawal of the British from their 13 colonies & the subsequent use of "what were essentially vicious killers to terrorize the region thereby annexing land that could be sold to
settlers". The author describes in the colonists as conducting "counterinsurgent warfare and ethic cleansing targeting Indigenous civilians". In chapter 6, she describes Andew Jackson
as " ... an influential Tennessee land speculator , politician, and wealthy owner of a slaveworked plantation ....." Thoughout her book she effectively uses current modern adjectives to
describe, i.e. "....the final solution for the Indigenous peoples ...."
Chapter Six is entitled "The Last Of The Mohicans ..." her subtitles are
"Career Building Through Genocide" & "The Mythical Foundation Of Settler Patriotism".
She unapologetically disputes standard American Historical terminology
normally defined simply as "Westward Expansion". She states "Democracy, equality,
and equal rights do not fit well with dominance of one race by another, much less with genocide, settler colonialism, and empire."
Chapter Seven quotes Walt Whitman: "The nigger, like the Injun, will be eliminated;
it is the law of the races, history ....A superior grade of rats come and then all the minor rats are cleared out." Also covered are the American invasion and colonization of Northern Mexico & California.
Chapter Eight covers "Indian Country", with sub-titles such as "Lincoln's 'Free Soil'
for Settlers" and "The Genocidal Army of the West"; as well covering the Homestead Act ,
the Morrill Act & the Pacific Railroad Act.
I am giving this 5 stars as an important recording of history that is not otherwise admitted to, although the indigenous peoples' history here is more of a catalogue of the various broken treaties and genocidal massacres & relocations carried by various U.S. State and Federal governments and settler mercenaries and armies. i.e. you are not going to learn a lot about actual indigenous peoples' history here except for how they were impacted by the gradual western movement of the expanding colonial state. Even though it is not all inclusive it is still an important step in the process. The author's overall theme seems to be more the "American Way of War" and how it was honed in the suppression of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and was then exported throughout the world in hundreds of other colonial enterprises as early as African incursions in the First Barbary War of 1801-05 (i.e. the "Shores of Tripoli") through to Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria in the 2000's.
The reference section provides a wide-ranging listing of sources to expand your reading on the subject, many of which are from the last decade. Early sources are often few, but both Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (1970) by Dee Brown and Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1970) by Vine Deloria Jr. are included.
This book is unabashedly told from a perspective, and the reader has to get used to it. It’s not told from the perspective of an “objective historian,” but instead makes moral judgments on history. It borders at times on telling a story about the “good” indigenous peoples against “bad” white settlers. It uses present-day terms to judge this history, terms that were inscribed in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, in 1948. While I agree that genocide tragically occurred, I find it a bit unfair to judge prior centuries’ decisions from ethical standards of a more recent day.
Dunbar-Ortiz’s history unapologetically makes recommendations that go hand-in-hand with the American political left. She does not attempt to moderate these views in the least or to bring them into dialogue with more neoconservative voices. Rather, she sees the neoconservative voices as the enemy to be overcome. And she makes a pretty good case from history as to why these voices are the enemy. The starkness in her tone is one often heard in wartime, and being from an indigenous background herself, she explains the hostility very clearly.
That said, she does a fairly good job of sticking to the facts, facts often overlooked in US education. She is not careful on some fronts – like with her overblown (but debated) statement that there were 100 million indigenous people in modern America before Columbus. Still, she gives us an understanding of why indigenous Americans are distrustful of federal and state governments. To some, like my wife, former US president Andrew Jackson will always be a genocidal leader on the order of Stalin or Hitler for the Trail of Tears. Dunbar-Ortiz’s examination clearly shows why.
This book was written before the Trump era, and some of its analysis in then-contemporary events reflects that. It seems embroiled in the left-versus-right era of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years, rather than in populist white nationalism. Nonetheless, it shows where the nationalist sentiments that Trump unearthed came from historically. White Christian nationalism has a long history in the United States, particularly on the frontier where it kept “law and order.” Dunbar-Ortiz shows that there isn’t anything new here, and her voice has relevance even in a new paradigm. Thinking readers of all sorts can benefit from wrestling with her respective that represents a significant segment of the US populace.
Dunbar-Ortiz presents an articulate, detailed, and fascinating presentation of Indigenous history from the perspective of Native Americans. Though somewhat short, the book tells a variety of historical stories from Native
Dunbar-Ortiz's work will be a must read for students of anthropology and Native American history. She expertly weaves various treaties, historical events, documents, and quotes into a narrative of Native interpretation of recent history, which is unique in the field (which often relies upon Western sources). A very authentic work of history and anthropology.
There were a few parts that I did not agree with and had a difficult time reading, notably areas outside of Native American history (the Crusades, Barbary Wars, Global War on Terrorism) and public health (treatment of disease and population health), which I felt were presented in an excessively simplified and pointed way. Being outside of the scope of the work, I felt that Dunbar-Ortiz only focused on excessive generalizations of these areas to fit her narrative, and seemed awkward/did not really fit. Additionally, she offers a brief aside to the Virginia Tech Massacre, which was particularly clunky and unnecessary, and quite off-putting. Other than the Virginia Tech comment, the additional comments fall under something of 'mission creep', where her topic is expanded in a series of asides in interesting yet irrelevant and sometimes biased/possibly inaccurate descriptions of history - which is made distracting by the otherwise detailed and articulate nature of most of her work. The Virginia Tech comments (only 1-2 pages maximum) were just 100% unnecessary - they serve no purpose and will only confuse/anger/turn off readers to what otherwise is a fascinating read.
3/5 for a strong representation of Native American history through their own words and experiences, with some marks off for an oversimplification and unnecessary inclusion of extraneous topics.
I don’t know. I can honestly say that this book did not make me angry, and I don’t think that it was written to inspire unreasoning rage, or even unreasoning language. Of course, I don’t always look in the same way at America and our history as another soul, but usually it is the person pointing out the crimes, in contemporary society and its past, that is calmer than the person who gets offended that we are not all ‘normal’ or whatever (and, indeed, not allowed to be—and don’t you forget it). Few people examine their lives or why they put greed first, as both ancient philosophers and prophets have commented. Of course, it remains that much of this remains unclear to me in certain ways, these lessons that I have unconsciously put off having for so long. How did it come to this? We have fine things, but we did not get them by being fine people; our history although not always subtle in the parlor seating sense of the word, is not more simple for being more bloody. Yet it is clear it wasn’t Washington’s parlor manners that did it for us. There is still a strain in the national consciousness that seeks to boast of this, for all the vagueness and romanticizing necessary to supplement the sheer guttural cry of triumph. And of course, an even stronger strain that seeks to forget, since greed is ‘new’, and all things are well, more or less.