Tuesday, 14 October 2014 12:44 By Laura Flanders, Truthout | Interview
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous People’s History of the United States. (Screen grab )The false narrative of Columbus “discovering” the Americas still pervades history books and the Eurocentric mindset of the United States. Learn the true history of what author and professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls the legacy of Columbus’ voyages: the annihilation and conquest of Native Americans.
An injury to one is an injury to all, the old labor slogan goes. What if we applied that idea to US indigenous history? How does the history of genocide affect all people in the United States even today?
This week, as some in the United States mark Indigenous People’s Day, author and professor Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz suggests that while remembering native history is good, it would be far better if we took the time and all got a lot smarter about how the treatment of Native Americans set wheels in motion that affect us all through to the present.
In her new book An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, longtime author-activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz corrects the record: The precolonial continent wasn’t untamed, uncultivated: “There was a road from Alaska down to southern Mexico; roads that [went] from east to west, north to south . . . Not paths . . . not roads just for hunting paths or migrations.” These were trade routes, reports Dunbar-Ortiz. “They had stops; they had places to stay . . . And trade items from central Mexico ended up in what is now Quebec and the Great Lakes area and vice versa.”
Before colonial capitalism, there existed what she calls “indigenous socialism.” The destruction of that economy through war, denial of self-determination, dispossession, criminalization and violence against women affected no group more than indigenous people, but they weren’t the only ones.
Colonialism, she argues, served as “an escape valve for the mother country.” Peasants thrown off their lands with the enclosure of the commons were assuaged with an offer of land “where they could be lord,” she says. But poor settlers too were “duped.”
“Corporations are predators to everyone now,” she said.
Understanding indigenous history not only reveals a lot about how we all live and why; reconnecting the dots of this history gives glimpses of alternatives and ways, she suggests, to, as Naomi Klein says, “change everything.” Dunbar-Ortiz traces her own heritage to Oklahoma white settlers and to Cherokees. Her other books include Red Dirt, Growing Up Okie, Outlaw Woman and Blood on the Border, A Memoir of the Contra War. The video of our conversation can be seen on The Laura Flanders show at GRITtv.org, or on Telesur English. The text has been edited lightly for publication.