Hello and Happy Thursday! Is it just me, or does this week feel like an entire month?
This month, my book group decided to branch out a bit in our reading and picked up An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Dunbar-Ortiz is an Indigenous rights activist and scholar, and the book takes on more than 300 years of North American history from an Indigenous perspective. The book is eye-opening and filled with important information, but we all found it a difficult read. It’s dense and scholarly in nature, almost like reading a textbook. I am a notoriously slow nonfiction reader, but it took me a month and a half to finish this book, which I found a struggle. Still, the information contained within the book is fascinating, sobering, and thought-provoking.
I was surprised and embarrassed when Dunbar-Ortiz discussed the role of various Indigenous nations in U.S. wars. To be honest, I had never thought of this before and certainly it was never discussed in my history classes. She discusses how some Indigenous nations chose to support certain sides in the Civil War, only to be hunted by those allies after the war ended. While this is not surprising, it was still a shock to read. I honestly cannot believe that I had never been taught, and never thought about, what Indigenous communities were doing during these major wars in their land.
One of my favorite points Dunbar-Ortiz made is about the prevailing opinion that the United States was a wilderness just waiting to be tamed. In reality, colonists shoved aside a large network of small and large nations with infrastructure, governments, science, arts, and agriculture. She said, “had North America been a wilderness, undeveloped…it might still be so, for the European colonists could not have survived (46). I think this is such a compelling argument against the narrative of exploration and expansion we have been taught in school.
Overall, this was a fascinating, but very depressing read. It didn’t end on a particularly hopeful note. We struggled to discuss it in book club, as it really was more of a scholarly sharing of facts rather than a conversation. If you do choose to read this book as a group, I would recommend doing some research in advance and finding discussion questions for members to think about as they read!
If you are interested in reading along with us, our March read is going to be Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. I’m so excited!
And our previous reads have been:
January: Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
December: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
October/November: How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
September: The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (Written by a white man, but we were looking for a history of policing and information about what defunding the police would look like. If you know a great resource for this by a BIPOC author, I’d love to pick it up.)