An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon Press 2014)

Lands of the Indigenous Peoples confiscated by the colonial power of the United States

The bonds that tie the United States and Israel together are tighter than most Americans understand and appreciate. Even President Obama needs a history lesson.

Affirming that the United States could be an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama told Al Arabiya television in Dubai a few days after his inauguration in January 2009: “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power.

Say it again?!

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz spells out the sordid history of our colonial conquest of the Indigenous peoples who lived on this land centuries before the Anglos arrived in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. She notes that “[t]he affirmation of democracy requires the denial of colonialism, but denying it does not make it go away.”

From the day Columbus set foot in what is present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1492, and returned to Spain with Indigenous slaves and gold, the putrid stench of colonialism has wafted over these lands we call the United States, and it lingers to this day.

Colonialism: the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

Our forefathers, and many historians, have tried to obscure this stench with noble explanations of “manifest destiny” and the “doctrine of discovery” but the reality of our founding story and its legacy is catching up with us on the streets of Ferguson, in Baltimore, and in the huge protests today in the Dakotas and beyond.

“Our nation was born in genocide … We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obviously, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t know (or forgot) that the State of Israel is trying as a matter of national policy to follow our lead and wipe out its Indigenous population.loss-of-land

Dunbar-Ortiz’s history of the United States doesn’t talk about the State of Israel, but the similarities are too striking to ignore.

  • Origin myth. While all modern nation-states claim a kind of rationalized origin story upon which their citizens can fashion patriotism and loyalty to the state, the U.S. is one of the few states founded on the covenant of the Hebrew Torah, or the Christian borrowing of it in the Old Testament. Other covenant states are Israel and the now-defunct apartheid state of South Africa, both founded in 1948. According to the myths, the faithful citizens come together of their own free will and pledge to each other and to their god to form and support a godly society, and their god in turn vouchsafes them prosperity in a promised land. (p.47)
  • Exceptionalism and the chosen people. Most Americans believe our country is exceptional among all nation-states, and this exceptionalist ideology has been used to justify appropriation of the continent and then domination of the rest of the world. (p.47)  The Zionists believe they are theChosen People. I don’t know if that equates to the Americans’ belief in exceptionalism but both strains have a connotation of entitlement which permeates throughout their actions in both the domestic and international spheres.
  • Create laws to support land confiscation. Many laws and programs in the United States encouraged settler squatters to take the land of the Indigenous people for their own, such as the Land Ordinance of 1785. The Zionists did the very same thing with their Absentees Property Law.
  • Ethnic cleansing aka as forced relocations. The U.S. government forced the Indigenous population off of their ancestral lands and onto reservations. The early Zionists forced the Indigenous population off of their ancestral lands in Palestine, refused to allow them to return, and cast them into small bantustans in the West Bank and a large open-air prison in the Gaza Strip.
  • Violence against the civilian Indigenous population. “The Anglo settlers organized irregular units to brutally attack and destroy unarmed Indigenous women, children and old people using unlimited violence in unrelenting attacks.” (p.58)  Scalp hunting for bounties became a means of exchange, a form of currency, and the mutilated corpses left in the wake of the scalp hunts were known as the redskins. The violence of the early Zionists against the Indigenous population in Palestine has been well-documented by historians, such as Ilan Pappe. The forced expulsion from their lands, which the Palestinians call the Nakba, is seeping into the mainstream consciousness of the Israeli public. Jewish settlers continue toperpetrate violence against the Indigenous population to this day.

The similarities go on and on……confiscation of natural resources, humiliation and racist laws, treatment of the Indigenous population as subhuman, and failure to recognize, apologize and begin a meaningful truth and reconciliation process. In fact, both countries actively ignore and dismiss their brutal colonial past.

Times are changing, too slowly, but people are beginning to recognize the stories they’ve been told are false. Many Americans and Israelis need to make peace with their true origin story before their communities can heal.  For Americans on that journey, I recommend An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon Press 2014).  For Israelis, I recommend The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe (Oneworld Publications 2006)

 

 

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