An indigenous peoples' history of the United States

by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Paper Book, 2014


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."… (more)



Call number



Boston : Beacon Press, [2014]

User reviews

LibraryThing member Treebeard_404
There were times when the prose in this book read like a conservative's parody of liberal academic writing. And yet if you focus solely on the facts presented, it is hard to escape the conviction that colonialism, racism, genocide, and total war are the only appropriate terms to apply. In the
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current climate in which so many people want to invalidate any historical perspective that would make them feel uncomfortable, guilty, or complicit, it is perhaps all the more important to challenge ourselves and our received cultural perspective with a different narrative.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
First off, let me say that this book is great and it is desperately needed. While I have long turned my ears to the cries of injustice, the echoes of the indigenous peoples of the Americas have rarely made the impact they do here. Why? Because we are taught so little. Because in the spectrum of
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U.S. history, it is relatively ancient. Because there are so few today who raise their voices and demand to tell the story. Sure, we know the stories we were told in elementary school were erroneous. We know Columbus was not worth our celebration. We know Thanksgiving is a lie. We may even know the big events: The Trail of Tears, Little Bighorn, etc. I may be speaking out of place, but I would venture to guess most of us, even those who know the history of injustice in the United States, do not know all this. Certainly, I did not.

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.
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LibraryThing member buffalogr
This author wrote a book political harangue, not a history. Her facts are incorrect and she uses some facts not relative to the subject to prove her point. In the last third of the book, the harangue intensifies and the story ceases to be about history of the Indian people and more about a left
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leaning view of US current events. I suppose that, whether one enjoys this book will depend on ones politics. However, if you want to know more about the title subject, history of Indigenous People, read something else.
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LibraryThing member joeydag
This was one of the most difficult books for me to ever have read. I was hoping to appreciate a new framework for understanding US history from a Native American's perspective, but I seem to have run into a collection of notes that have some interesting and some outlandish things to say. I stayed
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with it because I think it should be somewhat difficult to understand history from a different political perspective. I simply found so many judgements that I may be sympathetic to but that I found arrived at without persuasive logic.

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.
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LibraryThing member michaelg16
I read this book twice and enjoyed it both times. So why twice? It isn't difficult or abstract or even a translation. The first time I read it I think I was distracted by the confusion and anger I felt at the plight of Native Americans -though this is not exactly news to me - and kept thinking
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about and visualizing the history so that the text blurred and I was stunned. The second time was more straightforward and I was able to appreciate the unusual narrative approach and the personal feel that this disarming book provides. Much to think about here -though rather than read it for a third time I will start looking more deeply at the fine bibliography and suggestions for further reading..
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LibraryThing member bergs47
This should be compulsory reading for every American. Its so true that the winner writes history and the loser is forgotten.
LibraryThing member octafoil40
The author sucessfuly establishes that each of the separate Native Indian
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
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questionable "Doctrine of Discovery" that the indigenous inhabitants lost their natural rights to their land after Eurpeans arrived and claimed their lands. She points out that such "settler colonialism" was basically a genocidal policy.
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.
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LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
Excellent high level view of the topic. It saddens me how many reviewers are complaining of "bias" or "an agenda" in this book since the author specifically explains she is looking to counter the existing bias in Western history texts that aims at alleviating guilt about colonizing and decimating
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native populations.
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LibraryThing member Sokudoningyou
I received my copy as an Early Reviewer, but sadly did not get to finish it until recently. (Grad school slows us all down.) I have to say, it was a breath of fresh air in the sense of doing a backwards version of US history than most of us are given in high school; I've read similar history books
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doing the same with Latinos. In some ways I do wish it was a little more even-handed; portraying Europeans as mostly bloodthirsty ignores plenty of people who happily integrated into native society, as well as others who did not try to eliminate the tribes, and to be frank, the indigenous tribes, once motivated, were not always kind either. Portraying one side as the Noble Savage in some ways, and the other as the Evil European doesn't help the narrative. However, that isn't to say this book isn't necessary, or at least a good means of understanding that American history did not start at Jamestown. (It didn't even start at St. Augustine.)
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LibraryThing member alanteder
"An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States" (2015) is part of Beacon Press's "ReVisioning American History" series along with A Disability History of the United States (2012) and A Queer History of the United States (2011). It is probably safe to assume that all of those titles and works
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are inspired by Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States (1980).

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.
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LibraryThing member owen1218
A good primer that covers much of the long history of invasion against indigenous people. The biggest downside is that the breadth of coverage comes at the cost of depth, leaving it to feel more like an overview.
LibraryThing member KittyCunningham
This was more a history of the abuses Europeans and the subsequent US government committed on the people already living here than a a history of those people. If you want to know about THEM, you need to read something else.
LibraryThing member scottjpearson
American history, as traditionally taught, teaches of the US’s “manifest destiny” and of many ensuing conflicts with natives on the Western frontier. A few ugly scenarios are often mentioned, but systematic genocide, on the order of Hitler or Stalin, is not described. However, from the
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perspective of these indigenous peoples, that’s exactly what happened as the United States attempted to destroy their entire culture. It’s this story from this perspective that Dunbar-Ortiz attempts to tell in this history of the American behemoth.

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.
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LibraryThing member bdtrump
I received an Advance Reading Copy of this work via Goodreads Giveaways.

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
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sources, with a primary focus on the late 15th Century to the modern day.

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.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
A valuable guide to a more authentic version of the American story.
LibraryThing member mojomomma
A look at U.S. history from an indigenous point of view turns everything you've learned on its head. How many people died on the altar of "manifest destiny"? The U.S. fomented its own genocide of its native population. Any hostilities the colonists and later the settlers experienced was due to
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impinging on land that wasn't theirs. It's the white settlers who killed women and children. Its the U.S. military who used the lessons of warfare against indigenous populations and applied them to other populations around the world to become an imperial power. The over-militarization of our society now is still apparent.
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LibraryThing member goosecap
I can’t say that I’ve read much about Native peoples, but I learned from this book that Native Americans have a history, that (like the Jews), their history is genocidal in the proportions of its suffering, and also that their tree is still alive. It also (since I do know more about what we
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colloquially call America), reveals something about our national history, and our current paranoia, often obvious, sometimes subdued, about deviations from perceived racial, religious, and gender norms, to say nothing of obsessive pushback against less harmful forms of political and economic governance. It all began with what we might politely call irregular, or more frankly unlawful warfare, which was designed from the beginning to be for total conquest across the continent. Having read this book, I can no longer look in the same way on someone like Parson Weems, whose Life of Washington I once saw as a sort of comic adventure, whose protagonist’s historical mischances provided the necessary first step upon the voyage of discovery, which I imagined was something we might one day all share….

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.
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LibraryThing member spounds
I knew it would be going in, but this was a tough read. She makes a compelling case for genocide. I look at news stories about Indians differently after reading this book.
LibraryThing member rivkat
An understandably angry (and therefore somewhat repetitive) history of the US from indigenous viewpoints, focusing on the genocides and settler colonialism that were core to the founding and never stopped. Among other things, Dunbar-Ortiz highlights that Sherman’s March was merely the application
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of tactics used against indigenous people against white Southerners, and that the military term “in-country” is actually shortened from “Indian Country,” highlighting the extent to which the US military remains organized around the founding concept of going to other people’s lands and telling them what to do. The actors here are indigenous fighters/activists and settler oppressors; when laws change in favor of indigenous communities they are just passive-voice changed, and it would have been a stronger book if it explained why settler legal systems would ever do this (similar to Derrick Bell’s theory of interest group convergence, which explains why some whites support some anti-white supremacy initiatives).
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
This is a textbook example of what a textbook for a course in "What Your Teachers Never Taught You About Native Americans" would be. The focus on the "Doctrine of Discovery", which served as the justification for stealing and profiting from the confiscation and sales of tribal lands, is sobering.
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Another revelation is the creation of the "Rangers", the Indian fighters who were the forebearers of our modern military - "In Country", a/k/a Indian Country, as used in Vietnam to indicate anti-guerilla warfare against the inhabitants of the land. The relationship of Indian people to their lands and to the animals they managed was never as owners, but as stewards and protectors. The continued oppressive activities, including the theft of children and their placement into boarding schools (similar to the Magdelene Laundries of Ireland), are horrifying, and reparations equal to the level of harm done are difficult to imagine. My reading and discussions of this book were sponsored by the Social Justice Book Club hosted by Brad McKenna of the Wilmington Memorial Library.
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LibraryThing member untraveller
Odd book. I thoroughly enjoyed the perspective the book offers, yet I believe the author is a bit loose with facts and interpretations. Nearly every page had something to fact check (e.g., meaning of the term redskin or the circumstances behind Sitting Bull’s death) and because of the abbreviated
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style of her prose, she does not always come out looking her best. A controversial declaration should be accompanied by an explanation of sorts. Also, the book is loaded with redundancy, yet still satisfying. Imagine how good it could be if the author could’ve jumped off her soapbox for a bit! Finished 27.02.20.
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Original publication date



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