Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

American historian

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (born September 10, 1939) is an American historian, writer and feminist.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in 2010

QuotesEdit

  • Teaching Native American studies, I always begin with a simple exercise. I ask students to quickly draw a rough outline of the United States at the time it gained independence from Britain. Invariably most draw the approximate present shape of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific-the continental territory not fully appropriated until a century after independence. What became independent in 1783 were the thirteen British colonies hugging the Atlantic shore. When called on this, students are embarrassed because they know better. I assure them that they are not alone. I call this a Rorschach test of unconscious 'manifest destiny,' embedded in the minds of nearly everyone in the United States and around the world. This test reflects the seeming inevitability of US extent and power, its destiny, with an implication that the continent had previously been a land without people
    • An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (2015)
  • Five hundred years later, Native peoples are still fighting to protect their lands and their rights to exist as distinct political communities and individuals. Most US citizens' knowledge about Indians is inaccurate, distorted, or limited to elementary-school textbooks, cheesy old spaghetti westerns, or more contemporary films like Dances with Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans. Few can name more than a handful of Native nations out of the over five hundred that still exist or can tell you who Leonard Peltier is. Mention Indian gaming and they will have strong opinions about it one way or another. Some might even have an Indian casino in their community, but they will probably be curiously incurious if you ask them how Indian gaming came to be or about the history of the nation that owns the casino. In many parts of the country it's not uncommon for non-Native people to have never met a Native person or to assume that there are no Indians who live among them. On the other hand, in places where there is a concentration of Natives, like in reservation border towns, what non-Native people think they know about Indians is typically limited to racist tropes about drunk or lazy Indians. They are seen as people who are maladjusted to the modern world and cannot free themselves from their tragic past.
    • All the Real Indians Died Off : And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans (2016) with Dina Gilio-Whitaker
  • I was also becoming more and more troubled by male chauvinism in the movement… Returning to the United States and organizing in the Boston area, I got angrier and angrier at men in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the anti-draft movement, the motto of which was, “Girls say yes to boys who say no.” I hadn’t felt oppressed so much directly, but of course I was, although I had been treated as a kind of “honorary” man. Once I started taking a feminist stand I got condemned. It was pretty hard to take at the time. And male chauvinism had terrible consequences for the women’s movement and for the development of the left, because it took some of the strongest feminists out of the Left and made the Left unwelcoming to newly politicized young women.
  • I think Marxism is a hard sell in the Native movement and for African Americans but less so for Mexican Americans because of their political genealogies. Today it’s even difficult for Chicanos, as well as Native Americans, because Marxism is deemed just Western epistemology or a Western worldview. There is of course a lot of Eurocentrism in Marx’s early writings. There is the idea of progress, but people don’t look at his later work enough, when he was getting into ethnology…
  • The left blames white nationalism. The right blames mental illness. Neither explains that it happens often here and nowhere else. But mass shootings account for a very small number of gun deaths: Many more women are killed in their home by guns. Men used to just knock women around, but rarely did death result. But with a gun on hand, there's a death. Half of the gun deaths are suicide. The proliferation of guns is a huge problem, but its cause is not lack of regulations. There were lots of regulations in the '70s when this started; going postal and school shootings started in the '70s.
  • I was an anti-war, civil rights and women’s liberation activist during the 1960s while a graduate student at UCLA. It was actually my dissertation research that led me to involvement in the American Indian Movement and the International Indian Treaty Council in 1974.
  • (Thanksgiving has) never been about honoring Native Americans. It’s been about the origin story of the United States, the beginning of genocide, dispossession and constant warfare from that time—actually, from 1607 in Jamestown—until the present. It’s a colonial system that was set up.
  • Why celebrate Columbus? It was the onset of colonialism, the slave trade and dispossession of the Native people of the Americas. So, that is celebrated with a federal holiday. That’s followed then by Thanksgiving, which is a completely made-up story to say the Native people welcomed these people who were going to devastate their civilizations, which is simply a lie. And then you go to Presidents’ Days, the Founding Fathers, in February, and celebrate these slaveowners, Indian killers. George Washington headed the Virginia militia for the very purpose of killing Native people on the periphery of the colony, before, you know, when it was still a Virginia colony. And then we have the big day, the fireworks, July 4th, independence, which is probably the most tragic event in world history, because it gave us—it gave the world a genocidal regime under the guise of democracy. And that’s really the—I’m a historian, so that’s the historical context that I think we have to see Thanksgiving in, that it is a part of that mythology that attempts to cover up the real history of the United States.

Interview with Democracy Now (2021)Edit

  • it was Berkeley that first recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992 during the quincentennial. San Francisco came, I think, about five or six years later. But Berkeley — you know, things start in Berkeley. People think they’re crazy there, and then suddenly it’s everywhere.
  • I never thought I would see it, you know, in the 1960s or '70s. It didn't seem like there would ever be any questioning of the role of Columbus. But it will be a long struggle still. It’s just not appropriate to celebrate Columbus and Indigenous peoples on the same day. It’s a contradiction. One is a genocidal enslavement, is what Columbus represents. And the situation of Native people today, still under colonialism, with shrunken land bases and not true sovereignty, is the fruit of that beginning, and they’re completely contradictory.
  • (JFK) was Catholic and a child of Irish immigrants, and this had never happened before, president that was not Anglo-Saxon or Scots-Irish and descended from the original settlers. So he had quite a hill to climb to make himself palatable.
  • there was no Italy — Columbus was from Genoa, a city-state. He died in Spain. So, you know, it’s a very weak link to Italianness. And, of course, Italians have such illustrious people they can celebrate, that everyone celebrates — Michelangelo, Vivaldi and, of course, for us on the left, Sacco and Vanzetti.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (2014)Edit

  • It was during the 1820s-the beginning of the era of Jacksonian settler democracy-that the unique US origin myth evolved reconciling rhetoric with reality. Novelist James Fenimore Cooper was among its initial scribes. Cooper's reinvention of the birth of the United States in his novel The Last of the Mohicans has become the official US origin story. Herman Melville called Cooper "our national novelist."
  • It's not that Andrew Jackson had a "dark side," as his apologists rationalize and which all human beings have, but rather that Jackson was the Dark Knight in the formation of the United States as a colonialist, imperialist democracy, a dynamic formation that continues to constitute the core of US patriotism. The most revered presidents-Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, Truman, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, Obama-have each advanced populist imperialism while gradually increasing inclusion of other groups beyond the core of descendants of old settlers into the ruling mythology. All the presidents after Jackson march in his footsteps. Consciously or not, they refer back to him on what is acceptable, how to reconcile democracy and genocide and characterize it as freedom for the people.
  • The Indian-fighting frontiersmen and the "valiant" settlers in their circled covered wagons are the iconic images of that identity. The continued popularity of, and respect for, the genocidal sociopath Andrew Jackson is another indicator. Actual men such as Robert Rogers, Daniel Boone, John Sevier, and David Crockett, as well as fictitious ones created by James Fenimore Cooper and other best-selling writers, call to mind D. H. Lawrence's "myth of the essential white American"-that the "essential American soul" is a killer.
  • Most of the books published during the five-year period leading up to, during, and after the invasion of Mexico were war-mongering tracts. Euro-American settlers were nearly all literate, and this was the period of the foundational "American literature," with writers James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville all active-each of whom remains read, revered, and studied in the twenty-first century, as national and nationalist writers, not as colonialists.
  • The Columbus myth suggests that from US independence onward, colonial settlers saw themselves as part of a world system of colonization. "Columbia," the poetic, Latinate name used in reference to the United States from its founding throughout the nineteenth century, was based on the name of Christopher Columbus. The "Land of Columbus" was-and still is-represented by the image of a woman in sculptures and paintings, by institutions such as Columbia University, and by countless place names, including that of the national capital, the District of Columbia. The 1798 hymn "Hail, Columbia" was the early national anthem and is now used whenever the vice president of the United States makes a public appearance, and Columbus Day is still a federal holiday despite Columbus never having set foot on the continent claimed by the United States.
  • As it happened, the fifth anniversary of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam occurred at the time of the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee. It was difficult to miss the analogy between the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and My Lai, 1968. Alongside the front-page news and photographs of the Wounded Knee siege that was taking place in real time were features with photos of the scene of mutilation and death at My Lai. Lieutenant William "Rusty" Calley was then serving his twenty-year sentence under house arrest in luxurious officers' quarters at Fort Benning, Georgia, near his hometown. Yet he remained a national hero who received hundreds of support letters weekly, who was lauded by some as a POW being held by the US military. One of Calley's most ardent defenders was Jimmy Carter, then governor of Georgia. In 1974, President Richard Nixon would pardon Calley.
  • Within days of the assassination of Osama bin Laden, on May 2, 2011, it was revealed that the Navy SEAL team executing the mission had used the code name Geronimo for its target.' A May 4 report in the New York Daily News commented, "Along with the unseen pictures of Osama Bin Laden's corpse and questions about what Pakistan knew, intelligence officials' reasons for dubbing the Al Qaeda boss 'Geronimo' remain one of the biggest mysteries of the Black Ops mission." The choice of that code name was not a mystery to the military, which also uses the term "Indian Country" to designate enemy territory and identifies its killing machines and operations with such names as UH-1B/C Iroquois, OH-58D Kiowa, OV-1 Mohawk, OH-6 Cayuse, AH-64 Apache, S-58/H-34 Choctaw, UH-60 Black Hawk, Thunderbird, and Rolling Thunder. The last of these is the military name given to the relentless carpet-bombing of Vietnam peasants in the mid-1960s. There are many other current and recent examples of the persistence of the colonialist and imperialist sensibilities at the core of a military grounded in wars against the Indigenous nations and communities of North America.

Interview (2008)Edit

  • Thanks to the inspiration of Elizabeth Martinez, who founded and published El Grito del Norte in Española, New Mexico, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I decided to write my doctoral dissertation on the history of land tenure in northern New Mexico. Only through understanding history and land, I believed, could the present be understood.
  • Simon J. Ortiz, writer and poet; Petuuche Gilbert; and Maurus Chino of Acoma Pueblo have given me insights into and understanding of the Pueblo Indian perspective. In fact, they have untiringly educated me in hopes that my work would be useful for their people.
  • U.S. leftists do not want to really acknowledge that they live within not only an imperialist state, but also one founded on being a colonizing state. Actually, indigenous land struggles had never stopped in the United States; social activists and leftists had little interest in Indians, and their struggles were simply not publicized, but beginning in the late 1950s they became more frequent and more widespread and began to be noticed, leading up to the Wounded Knee uprising in 1973.
  • U.S. activists are always enthusiastic about and do solidarity work for agrarian uprisings in Latin America, such as the Zapatistas and the previous national liberation movements that had agrarian reform/revolution as their bases. But, they have not taken the time and made the commitment to understand indigenous and other agrarian struggles in the United States. Even the Civil Rights Movement in the South was weakened by not taking up the issue of land, and when voting rights were achieved organizers fled north and west to work in urban areas.
  • I think the best place to start in developing solidarity with indigenous and other land struggles is the work being done at the international level, mostly in the United Nations system.

Quotes about Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizEdit

  • This may well be the most important US history book you will read in your lifetime...Spoiler alert: the colonial era is still here, and so are the Indians.
  • Every society has an origin narrative that explains that society to itself and the world with a set of stories and symbols. The origin myth, as scholar-activist Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz has termed it, defines how a society understands its place in the world and its history. The myth provides the basis for a nation's self-defined identity. Most origin narratives can be called myths because they usually present only the most flattering view of a nation's history; they are not distinguished by honesty. Ours begins with Columbus "discovering" a hemisphere where some 80 million people already lived but didn't really count
  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States should be essential reading in schools and colleges...A sobering look at a grave history.

External linksEdit

 
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