Book – Non-fiction. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. 2015. 312 pages.
Four hundred years of Native American history from a bottom-up perspective.
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. 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 U.S. empire.
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.” [Publisher’s description.]
This excerpt from An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, is useful for teaching about the #ChangetheMascot campaign regarding the Washington football team and other sports mascots.
“Redskins” (from Chapter Four: Bloody Footprints)
Indigenous people continued to resist by burning settlements and killing and capturing settlers. As an incentive to recruit fighters, colonial authorities introduced a program of scalp hunting that became a permanent and long-lasting element of settler warfare against Indigenous nations. During the Pequot War, Connecticut and Massachusetts colonial officials had offered bounties initially for the heads of murdered Indigenous people and later for only their scalps, which were more portable in large numbers. But scalp hunting became routine only in the mid-1670’s, following an incident on the northern frontier of the Massachusetts colony. The practice began in earnest in 1697 when settler Hannah Dustin, having murdered ten of her Abenaki captors in a nighttime escape, presented their ten scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly and was rewarded with bounties for two men, two women, and six children.
Dustin soon became a folk hero among New England settlers. Scalp hunting became a lucrative commercial practice. The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage settlers to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for the reward money. “In the process,” John Grenier points out, “they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities.” Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that for Indigenous children under ten, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between Indigenous combatants and noncombatants and introduced a market for Indigenous slaves. Bounties for Indigenous scalps were honored even in absence of war. Scalps and Indigenous children became means of exchange, currency, and this development may even have created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the Indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp-hunts: redskins.
This way of war, forged in the first century of colonization – destroying Indigenous villages and fields, killing civilians, ranging and scalp hunting – became the basis for the wars against the Indigenous across the continent into the late nineteenth century.
“A must-read for anyone interested in the truth behind this nation’s founding.”
—Veronica E. Velarde Tiller, PhD, Jicarilla Apache author, historian, and publisher of Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country
“This may well be the most important US history book you will read in your lifetime. . . . 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.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams
“Dunbar Ortiz’s . . . 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.”
—Mililani B. Trask, Native Hawai’ian international law expert on Indigenous peoples’ rights and former Kia Aina (prime minister) of Ka La Hui Hawai’i
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States provides an essential historical reference for all Americans. . . . The American Indians’ perspective has been absent from colonial histories for too long, leaving continued misunderstandings of our struggles for sovereignty and human rights.”
—Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History . . . 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.”
—Vijay Prashad, author of The Poorer Nations
“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.”
—Waziyatawin, PhD, activist and author of For Indigenous Minds Only
“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.”
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States is a fiercely honest, unwavering, and unprecedented statement, one which 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 trust. It is truly an Indigenous peoples’ voice that gives Dunbar-Ortiz’sbook direction, purpose, and trustworthy intention. Without doubt, this crucially important book is required reading for everyone in the Americas!”
—Simon J. Ortiz, Regents Professor of English and American Indian Studies, Arizona State University
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes a masterful story that relates what the Indigenous peoples of the United States have always maintained: Against the settler U.S. 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 U.S. and demand justice as well as the realization of sovereignty on their own terms.”
—Jennifer Nez Denetdale, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico and author of Reclaiming Diné History
ISBN: 9780807000403 | Published by Beacon Press.