Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Beacon Press 2014

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Native American StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network August 17, 2015 Andrew Epstein

When Howard Zinn published A People’s History of the United States in 1980, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz was thrilled. “I used it as a text immediately,”...

When Howard Zinn published A People’s History of the United States in 1980, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz was thrilled. “I used it as a text immediately,” she remembers. Comrades in the movement anti-war movement, Zinn and Dunbar-Ortiz shared a belief that a radically different kind of history, freed from patriotic bluster, was desperately needed.

But Dunbar-Ortiz was also concerned by Zinn’s narrative. While the opening chapters on the genocide of Indigenous people were “like no other general U.S. history book,” Native Americans largely fell out of the story until the Red Power movements of the 1960s and 70s. “I kept saying to Howard, ‘What happened to the Indians? Why did they disappear until Alcatraz in 1969?'” Dunbar-Ortiz recounts. “He would say, ‘You have to write that book.'”

And so last year, Dunbar-Ortiz published An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2014). Covering several centuries in a brisk and moving narrative, this is a deeply unsettling tale. Dunbar-Ortiz lays bear a process of genocidal colonization and Indigenous resistance, the genesis of a American way of war born from frontier counterinsurgency and premised on annihilation, and how powerful origin myths continue to obscure the real history of this continent.

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