I heard about this book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on a podcast where someone was raving about how much it had helped them realize there’s more than one way to look at everything. I had been meaning to get some more Native American literature into my reading life, so I went ahead and got the audiobook from my library. Dunbar-Ortiz narrates it herself and I definitely recommend her as a narrator. She’s 1/4 Native American herself (I can’t remember what tribe) and she teaches Native American studies, so she’s certainly qualified to talk on the subject, even as she acknowledges there are some gaps in the record.
The book is exactly what the title makes it sound like: it’s an entire history of the U.S. (from the discovery of the continent by Europeans to the present day) from the perspective of Native Americans (with a few mentions of their southern neighbors in what is now Mexico).
I already knew most of the things this book covered, but there were still some surprises, mostly relating to how badly we’re still treating Native Americans. I was naive enough to think we had grown beyond that, but apparently not. The thing that struck me the most was the way our military continues to use derogatory language about Native Americans to refer to current operations. For example, land that is not occupied or controlled by American forces is still referred to as “Indian country,” even when they’re fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I also had not thought about American current events in the context of colonization, but Dunbar-Ortiz makes a very good point, first in pointing out that the English practiced colonizing on the Irish and Welsh, then used those tactics to colonize the rest of the world, including the Americas. After we claimed our independence from the British, we continued using their colonization techniques, and are still using them all over the world.
Of course, there were other things I learned about in this book. I hadn’t heard about the occupation of Alcatraz, which was fascinating. And while I knew the white settlers had done their share of slaughtering women and children (in addition to men they outarmed and outnumbered), it’s always good to get a reminder of these kinds of atrocities. I also hadn’t heard about the photos of Wounded Knee (in which Native American women and children were slaughtered) and how they were compared to photos of the atrocities in the Vietnam War with a depressing amount of similarity.
I wasn’t expecting this book to be cheerful and it’s not, but it is enlightening and educational and I highly recommend it.
What did you read this week? Anything that was recommended to you that lived up to your expectations?