95 pages 3 hours read

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People

Nonfiction | Book | YA | Published in 2019

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Important Quotes

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“Everything in US history is about the land: who oversaw it and planted crops on it, fished its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commodity (‘real estate’) broken into pieces to be bought and sold. As anthropologist Patrick Wolf writes, ‘Land is life—or at least, land is necessary for life.’” 

(Introduction, Page 2)

Dunbar-Ortiz outlines a key thesis in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Indigenous peoples held a communal view of land ownership. So did early European societies before its rulers established the concept of private property. Driving Indigenous peoples from their homelands was a central focus of Europeans, and the U.S.’s land treaties with European powers often ignored Indigenous claims to it. Many of the current legal battles today center around regaining lost land.

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“The continued influence of settler colonialism and genocide show up when history is retold in a way that celebrates settlers and makes Indigenous peoples disappear from historical records. This practice is sometimes called ‘firsting and lasting.’ You may have seen examples of it. All over North America are places that are described as ‘the first’ settlement, building, or school. [...] On the other hand, stories of the US are also full of instances of the ‘last’ Indians or the last tribes—’the last of the Mohicans,’ ‘Ishi, the last Indian,’ and End of the Trial (a famous sculpture created by James Earl Fraser).” 

(Introduction, Pages 13-14)

A common defense to stories of Indigenous genocide is that those events are in the past with no bearing on today’s citizens. But framing European firsts as innovative and Indigenous peoples as extinct can be a subtle form of White supremacy. This passage also directly addresses young readers, whose educations largely come from this perspective, and asks them to think critically about what they’ve read and seen up to this point.

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“Oren Lyons, a member of the Onondaga Council of Chiefs, explains the central ideas of the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace: ‘The first principal is peace. The second principal, equity, justice for the people. And third, the power of the good minds, of the collective powers to be of one mind: unity. […] And the process of discussion, putting aside warfare as a method of reaching decisions, and now using intellect.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 26)

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s constitution, the Great Law of Peace, demonstrates the political sophistication of early civilizations. The six nations of the confederacy, spread throughout present-day New York, Pennsylvania, and Quebec, maintained decentralized democratic norms in ways that influenced the U.

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