An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States Summary
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States Summary

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is an award-winning 2015 nonfiction book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz that reinterprets American history from the perspective of Native peoples.

  • Ortiz analyzes the motivations and beliefs behind European colonialism and argues that the United States was founded upon racism and genocide.
  • The book explores Indigenous resistance to colonialism and how the domination of Native lands became the new nation's primary goal, later feeding into US imperialism overseas.
  • Finally, Ortiz considers relations between Indigenous and white Americans in recent times, concluding that a vast ideological gap remains between the two groups' perspectives on history.

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Summary

As the title suggests, Ortiz presents the history of America from the point of view of the Indigenous peoples. The work offers a perspective that differs greatly from the common narrative, or the way the story of American history is most often told—that is, from the point of view of European settlers. Ortiz sets out not to challenge the facts as they are presented, per se, but rather to point out that “US policies . . . related to Indigenous peoples . . . are rarely depicted as what they are: classic cases of imperialism and . . . settler-colonialism.”

The author contends at the outset that settler colonialism represents “the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy . . . genocide, and land theft.” Overall, she contends that the “consensual national narrative,” or the history as it is accepted, ignores these ideological underpinnings. The author sets out to explore much of American history more or less in chronological order, examining the experience of the Indigenous peoples and relating each chapter back to her thesis about the true founding principles of the United States. In doing so, she sets out to ask, “how might acknowledging the reality of US history work to transform society?”

Ortiz presents clear evidence of the extent of civilization in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. The land mass was divided into regions of interconnected civilizations, such as the Mississippi Valley, the Caribbean Islands, and the Great Lakes region. Central to these civilizations’ success was the discovery and cultivation of unique and nutritious foods, namely corn, beans, and squash. The author lists impressive accomplishments in agriculture, architecture, art, mathematics, astronomy, and government by these large and advanced populations, which matched the Europeans of the time.

Turning to examine the underlying ideology of the arriving Europeans, Ortiz argues that a “culture of conquest” had long been established within the European psyche before arrival. She reviews the history of Europe and asserts that most conflicts, from the Crusades to the expulsion of the Moors from Iberia, were actually forms of early colonialism and methods for “deportation, and expropriation of land.” Ortiz contends that the contests between peoples and the social and political shifts that took place across Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East over centuries are best understood as the formation of a culture based on racial supremacy, all of which laid the psychological groundwork for colonial thinking.

Ortiz examines the notion of “providence” (God's will), which became part of the founding myth promulgated by Calvinist settlers. She contends that these people saw themselves as “chosen” and felt “commanded by God to go into the wilderness and build the new Jerusalem.” Through this deeply flawed thinking, Ortiz contends that what was once “sacred land” later became “real estate,” altering the conceptual relationship between people and land in the Americas.

The eighteenth century witnessed the independence of colonies from British rule and, Ortiz contends, marked the beginning of a culture of “resistance to total domination” on the part...

(The entire section is 1,078 words.)