2015 Recipient of the American Book Award
The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples
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, for the first time, 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 US 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.”
Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.
American Indian activist and scholar Dunbar-Ortiz (The Great Sioux Nation) launches a full-bore attack on what she perceives as the glaring gaps in U.S. history about the continent's native peoples. Professional historians have increasingly been teaching much of what Dunbar-Ortiz writes about, yet given what she argues is the vast ignorance of the Indigenous experience, there still remains a knowledge deficit that needs to be rectified. She describes the U.S. as "a colonialist settler state, one that, like the colonialist European states, crushed and subjugated the original civilizations in the territories it now rules." The conventional national narrative, she writes, is a myth that's "wrong or deficient, not in its facts, dates, or details but rather in its essence." What is fresh about the book is its comprehensiveness. Dunbar-Ortiz brings together every indictment of white Americans that has been cast upon them over time, and she does so by raising intelligent new questions about many of the current trends of academia, such as multiculturalism. Dunbar-Ortiz's material succeeds, but will be eye-opening to those who have not previously encountered such a perspective.