Book review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Boston: Beacon Press, 2014
This is a book about the history of the United States, and the concurrent histories of the indigenous peoples who lived in North America before there was a “United States.” Surely you already know, deeply or vaguely, that these are violent histories of conflict, betrayal and subjugation.
Full disclosure: this is not an easy book. If you are an American historian or a student of American history, you should read it. Don’t expect to enjoy it. Dunbar-Ortiz frankly admits that she had “grave misgivings” about her mandate to “write accessibly so it would engage multiple audiences.” She uses the word “genocide” a half dozen times in the first few pages, and repeatedly thereafter, and this sets a tone for the entire book.
Here are selected chapter sub-headings—they’re not a representative sample, but they are illustrative:
- White Supremacy and Class
- Roots of Genocide
- Settler-Parasites Create the Virginia Colony
- Career Building Through Genocide
- The Genocidal Army of the West
- Greed is Good
- North America is a Crime Scene
Dunbar-Ortiz concludes by endorsing a Native American historian’s observation that “…while living persons are not responsible for what their ancestors did, they are responsible for the society they live in, which is a product of that past.” The author argues for “honoring the treaties…restoring all sacred sites, starting with the Black Hills and including most federally held parks…[restoring] all stolen sacred items and body parts…payment of sufficient reparations for the reconstruction and expansion of Native nations.”
That is a conclusion of historic proportions that engages multiple audiences. Dunbar-Ortiz had grave misgivings before she wrote this book. I think many readers will feel the same.
Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2015 All rights reserved.