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

Review:

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) - Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizIt’s amazing how hearing the same story from a different perspective makes you see it all a little differently. While there are some bits that I’m not familiar with from American history classes throughout the years, most of the information isn’t entirely new. This book just does something with the information that no American history class I’ve ever taken has done. It added in the impact those actions had on the Native Americans.

It reminded me that carrying out an action against a people and then going home, doesn’t make that the end of what happens there. Many war stories also include this, but again, we forget in the US because we go in, fight it out, destroy everything, call the people liberated, and then go home. At least, that’s been our way for a long time. Even countries that we occupied for a time weren’t in the main consciousness of the rest of the country and the troops that have occupied those countries weren’t there for so long that they joined in or cared about the community in a general way. Yes, some troops will do that but its not the mission and most just get homesick the longer they are anywhere. We don’t have to pick up the pieces. I remember also reading a beautiful poem by Wislawa Szymborska called The End and the Beginning, it can be found at the Poetry Foundation here. There is always work to be done to recover from the all the “growing” out west that the US did.

While there’s no argument that what the US did to the Native Americans as a whole is tragic, I can’t help but notice the irony in having called them the “uncivilized” as our civilization continues to kill all things natural around us, especially when they always strove to protect it all. I also read this book far too close to my reading of Looking for Palestine to not notice the parallel situation we would find ourselves in as a country were the UN to look at us and say that we have to abide by the treaties that we signed with the many indigenous peoples’ of the US. The people currently living in those areas would revolt as if the land hadn’t been misappropriated in the first place. It’s not as if the account here of how it was taken is strikingly different from what I remember of high school history. Again, the difference mainly surrounds that this book includes the effect on the Native Americans.

It did make me cringe a little to hear her call us “colonialists”. It’s not that the moniker is really wrong, especially once you’ve heard her case for it, but that it’s so right it hurts a little. We, as a country, did all this while denouncing the form of colonialism that we had been under. We still managed to feel absolutely nothing about putting ourselves upon those who we could after having been so put upon by the English. It barely makes sense except for the tendency for people to take out their inability to control their own destinies on those who they can control. Like an abused child abusing their smaller sibling. It was also disappointingly true to hear her talk about our actions towards people of other countries with less military might than ours. I’ve read a few other books that would completely agree with this assessment of what we do when we aim to “liberate” other peoples*. It’s more of a mess than anything else, but it’s a mess of a way to handle things that we inherited and maybe one day we’ll come up with the right way or at least a better way to handle it all but I won’t hold my breath.

The book does note some promising changes to the way Native Americans are viewed and treated in the US but which can be easily seen in the divided responses people had to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Stand with Standing Rock protests and campaign. The controversy received a lot of media attention and was a hot topic for part of the election but the direction of the election and that the pipeline stands and has already leaked oil show just how much further we have to go. Still, it gives me hope for the future.

My only problem with the book, though I completely understand it in the perspective, is the general way she talks about the troops. I get that it was exponentially easier in worse times to get the troops feeling hateful and then drunk and then just let them loose on society. I also get that incidents like Abu Ghraib doesn’t inspire confidence in our present situation. The difference is that the Armed Forces themselves take great pains these days to prevent rather than inspire such behavior. I get that it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to the people that are on the other end of our weapons and I get that the present change in administration is troubling to many world-wide. Still, I felt I would be remiss in my review to not mention this attitude toward US troops for the benefit of future readers who may or may not have affiliation with the present Armed Forces. It makes the information here, though not generally untrue, a little harder to swallow at times.

Above all, I hope this book finds it’s way into classrooms and churches and hearts. I hope we act on the actual virtues of Christianity and go back and decide without being further told to abide by those treaties, that we treat our neighbor better than we would treat ourselves, and find a way to coexist that’s good for all of us. We can’t fix the past but we can make a future that embodies what our ancestors should have done to begin with. Maybe we will one day. It’s one of the things I’ll be working toward in whatever ways I find.

I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, read by Laural Merlington. For anyone hoping to purchase a copy, click on the cover above and BookLikes has a few options that are available world-wide. I’m sure I’ll be getting my own hard copy at some point as I really need to have it more accessible and in written form. Audiobooks are great but this deserves to be used as a references and even reads like a textbook in some ways (the more engaging kind of textbook that is well written and not the boring kind) and audiobooks are just not as good for that.

*Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen AguirreYour Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune

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