Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz with Nikkita Oliver: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People

Transcribed by Rey Smith.

Jini Palmer: Welcome to Town hall Seattle civic series. On Wednesday, September 11th, American historian, writer and social justice activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz came to our Great Hall stage to talk with Seattle attorney, educator and community organizer Nikkita Oliver. Together they explored Roxanne’s book, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, and the legacy of indigenous peoples’ resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.

Nikkita Oliver: Wow, they’re really excited to see you tonight. How are y’all doing? Look at this wonderfully renovated Great Hall. We have some beautiful places in Seattle. We’re going to start off first hearing from Roxanne. Are you all good with that? Awesome. What do you got for us?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Hello everyone. I can’t see you very well, but I can hear you. You sound wonderful. I want to thank Edward Walker, Candace Wilkinson, Megan Castillo and everyone associated with making this evening possible. I’m honored to be on the stage and in conversation with Nikkita Oliver. And gratitude to the Suquamish, Duwamish, Nisqually and Muckleshoot nations whose unceded territory we are on. I want to mention that we’re meeting on a date, September 11th, that is a day of infamy that some of you may not know very much about. 46 years ago tonight, one of the greatest democracies ever to exist in the Western hemisphere was violently crushed, It’s socialist president Salvador Allende murdered, throwing the Southern hemisphere into darkness with brutal military dictatorships and power from which it has never completely recovered. Indigenous peoples, the main losers. This coup against democracy was the work of the United States government, as so many others around the world have been, are now and will be if we don’t do something about it. So that’s what this book is about. The original book that I wrote, it’s about that, Chile and hundreds of other devastating operations, military operations, secret sometimes by the United States. They’re going on with bombs, drones, killing, maiming as we speak.

So we are it’s citizens and we must stop it. So I am really excited about this book for young people that Jean Mendosa and Debbie Reese translated, adapted so beautifully. I give them all credit and I think Jean Mendosa might be here tonight, is Jean here?


Hi Jean. Jean and I will be doing an event tomorrow night at Third Place Books about the book. So from the time I began writing this book in 2009, I had a dream of it becoming a book for young people as well, and that dream has come true. And I’m so happy about it. I’m grateful to Jean and Debbie at Beacon Press for the finished product; I had very little to do with it except conceive the original idea. And I just wanted to start off with a question that I think of a lot and know that teachers and parents do: why is it so important that young people, even children, understand the true history of the United States? So let us think about that tonight as well as all the questions that Nikita has for me. Thank you.

NO: That’s all right. Show some love. I heard the little, ‘should we clap?’ Well, I was very moved reading this book. I’ve read both versions now and it was informative but also incredibly traumatizing to think about the ways in which the United States and white settler colonialism and white supremacy has time and time again oppressed and aggressively attacked and made attempts to exterminate whole groups of people. And yet here we are living in Seattle named after Chief Sealth, in a city named after a Duwamish Chief where we purposely bastardize his name every time we say it, placing an image on a symbol to make the city look like we’re honoring the histories of the land and the peoples that we benefit from. And it was a lot to process and it made me think a lot about whole stories and truth. So I started a Google you—very millennial of me—to understand how you came to a place of this being the sort of work you did as an academic and historian, and to do it in such a way that it’s useful for shifting culture.

Books like this help us better understand the roots of this country and allow us to do what Angela Davis talked about, get radical, which means to get to the root so he can make cultural shifts, so eventually we can make policy shifts, so eventually we can make reparations, in this instance returning the land back to the original peoples. So how did you get to doing this? You were born and raised in Oklahoma. I mean, I grew up in Indiana and you don’t want to know some of the people I grew up around. So how did you arrive here?

RDO: Well, yes, I grew up in rural Oklahoma, Canadian County. I’m sure no one’s ever heard of most of the sites of my childhood. But it’s Northwest of Oklahoma City, Central Oklahoma. Oklahoma is actually a very complex place and I come from the most boring part of it actually, where everything was turned to wheat. And Western Oklahoma, wheat and oil and gas. Whereas the Eastern, although there are the Plains peoples’ former land basis reservations which were allotted in the 1880s, the Southern Cheyenne Arapaho, the Comanches, the Apaches. So I was surrounded by Native people where I grew up. My dad was a sharecropper. His father had owned land and lost it, this is a white settler. My father’s from the Scots Irish borderlands and incoming white settler class people that went from Kentucky to Missouri and kind of washed up in Oklahoma. But his father was a veterinarian and owned land where I grew up. And by the time I was born, well my father never owned land cause my grandfather lost the land. So he was a sharecropper, mostly cotton. We were very, very poor and rural and moved around a lot in this one county, it was the former Southern Cheyenne Arapaho reservation. So everything was segregated. There were black towns, white towns and native towns, and almost everyone, however, was Baptist, but they had different, you know, white Baptist church and the Black Baptist church and the Native Baptist churches. So it was an extremely provincial upbringing. Neither of my parents ever finished high school. So in my family we were the first to go to college.

I guess because I was a reader, I really—not that we had that many books, my personal library at home right now is larger than the school library in the school I went to for 12 years—but I read every book several times and just had a lot of lucky breaks of people who saw I like to read and encouraged it and gave me other books to read and told me about things. And so I really don’t know how it was that I got the idea of even aspiring—I didn’t really aspire to get a pHD in history, I didn’t even know what that was—I basically wanted to get a degree to work at the telephone company and make more money than you do with a high school degree. So—

NO: Midwest dreams.

RDO: That was my largest aspiration at the time. But then other things happened. So I’ve written three memoirs, so my life is kind of an open book if you want to read.

NO: Pun intended.

RDO: So the first one, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, covers this first 21 years of my life in Oklahoma.

NO: The part that I find really interesting is I feel like I know a lot of academics but none whose work as a community organizer—I mean a few whose work as a community organizer—but mostly whose work as a community organizer is not useful to me. And one of the things that I found interesting in an interview that you did was you said you did not want to do work as an academic that would earn you tenure, you wanted to do work as a historian that would serve communities. And I think that is a drastically different perspective than how a lot of people approach their work in the ivory tower. And I was thinking a lot about accountability in storytelling and I won’t lie, I felt a little bit like maybe I shouldn’t be the person on this stage asking you questions about a book about indigenous people as a person whose own heritage is from white settler colonials and formerly enslaved black peoples. And what it drove me to thinking about as a storyteller is: what does it look like to be accountable as a historian to the communities whose story you’re getting the privilege and opportunity to tell?

RDO: It’s a really important question. I did this book really as a history of the United States attempting to take an overall Native American perspective, which is, I say in the author’s note, impossible. There are 500, more or less, Native nations and communities across the continent and each are unique. And throughout the hemisphere, it’s really a hemisphere of villages, there are some elements that are in common and I was seeking what those are in the hemisphere. And follow the corn, you know, out of Mexico, the dye fusion of the maize culture, creating the most important agricultural regions of the world. Four of the seven rise of agricultural civilization, but without feudalism, forced labor and without capitalism.

So these were the things that interested me, but I built that upon 40 years of working with—I mean I feel that all of this that I learned over time cumulated and I had some important mentors like Vine Deloria Jr., Howard Adams, Meti from Saskatchewan, Jack Forbes. Unfortunately, most historians were men. I might tell you that I went through my entire university career, I never had a woman or a person of color for a professor, only white males. So that was standard at that time up until—

NO: It’s kind of standard now, too. Let’s not give them too much credit yet.

RDO: But the responsibility I acquired when I first got drafted. I felt like I got recruited in the wake of the Wounded Knee trials. I was in law school and I did literally get recruited by Vine Deloria and some of the other lawyers to work on the Wounded Knee legal cases. There were hundreds and hundreds of misdemeanors and felony charges. And by that time, the leadership trials had—the ones that got a lot of attention—had been done, but then these thousands of others that had to be dealt with and most were Lakota, but there were also allies that came there. So there were some white, Black, other Native nations other than Lakota. And I had done my dissertation on the history of land tenure in New Mexico from pre-colonial times to the present—and this was mainly about the Pueblo Indians and their land tenure, New Mexico—so I told Vine Deloria, you know, ‘I’m not the right person.’ They wanted me to be an expert witness and I said, ‘I’m not the right person cause I don’t know anything about the Sioux treaty or Sioux history or anything else. I did Latin American history, you know, that’s why I did New Mexico, was colonized by the Spanish.’ And I said, ‘I’m just not the right person. Maybe I can find someone.’ And he said, ‘Well you can pick it up pretty fast probably.’ And he handed me a box.

NO: That’s what lawyers always say. ‘You can go through this discovery pretty fast.’ Hands you 5,000 pages.

RDO: Do your homework! So I did. And I felt very shaky because, you know, on the witness stand as an expert witness talking about things that I barely knew anything about, but I’ll just describe the kind of extraordinary experience it was. We were two weeks in Lincoln, Nebraska in the dead of winter and it really gets cold there, it was like 20 below 0. And the Missouri river is right there. So this is the capital of Nebraska. It’s where the federal court is and where we were doing a motion to dismiss 300 cases based on the Sioux treaties, so it was a test to the treaty— the 1868 treaty had a portion that said that anyone who committed a crime on Sioux reservation, the Great Sioux Nation, that if it was a white person, the Sioux could choose to turn them over to the federal government or put them on trial, if it was a native person they could put them on trial—that the federal government had no right to try these people. So it was a two week session and hundreds, probably about 700, Lakotas came down and pitched their tipis along the Missouri river, their used to the cold weather. And the way we organized it, there were about 10 lawyers, Vine Deloria was the main one, and then there were all these other lawyers, all of them pro bono working on these cases. And we would plan the next day by going down there—first of all, they would cook, we would be fed by the Lakota people—and then there was this mass meeting and this is how they come to decisions and they would discuss what we would do the next day, who would testify, who would be an expert witness. And the lawyers would take notes and go back to the hotel where we were staying and figure out how to implement the wishes of the 700 people in discussion.So this is the—

NO: That is a very challenging form of accountability. As a lawyer, I couldn’t imagine sitting in a room with 700 people and trying to figure out, ‘Okay, so y’all tell me I need to use this witness. Yup, I got you. I’ll figure that out tomorrow.’ But it’s also a beautiful example of what it looks like to be an accomplice in an ally as opposed to thinking that simply because you have this degree and you’ve been given this bar license, that somehow, you know what’s right. I think it also is an example of what does it look like—you know, one of the things that was shocking to me reading this youth version was to think about all the ways in which sovereign nations who had their own ways of governing and constructing themselves and running their society, how disrespected that way of being was. And this to me sounds like a way of honoring that, even in relationship to a process—cause let’s not play with ourselves, courts don’t want you to honor that relationship even when it comes to your clients—a really revolutionary way, a radical way to shift the power paradigm. So in that context, we’re very progressive here in Seattle. Yes, faux progressive, excuse me. I’m wondering, was there a time in the work that you did in partnering with the Native nations where you were called out for maybe not doing things the way they wanted, and how did you respond to it? Because I feel like in Seattle, we often get told by communities, ‘That actually doesn’t honor our way of being,’ and I think we need to be instructed on how do you respond? What is the restorative and reparative way when a community asks you to honor their way? And how can you really be progressive in doing that?

RDO: I learned very early—I was married to an Acoma Pueblo Native person, Simon Ortiz—and I certainly learned, they were a very traditional family, that you didn’t even consider you didn’t go to their ceremonies if you weren’t Pueblo. I mean, even if you were another Native tribe, they’re very secretive about their ceremonies. So I learned a protocol and I guess I was raised with a great deal of a sense of understanding boundaries not to cross. And that was very restrictive in some ways, but also, a certain kind of respect. So it never did, it didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t feel excluded. One thing I draw the line at is I don’t participate in any ceremonies, even when I am invited. I just don’t feel it’s appropriate for me, so I do not. And for me it’s how can I be of service to that community. And I think every book and every article I’ve written has been initiated by being asked a question. Right after, at the same time as this 1974 treaty hearing, the International Indian Treaty Council was formed. The Lakota elders had asked the young people to take the treaty. By the way, we lost the case. We lost; the Supreme Court denied and said that the United States government cannot decide against itself. And this judge said, ‘You need to go to international bodies.’ So the elders chose some of us and they wanted us to research this and see if we could go to the World Court, see if we could do this or that. And none of us knew anything about any of this. So we learned to do that. So that I did for throughout the 80s, I was doing this international work, and now there’s a huge Indigenous caucus you may know about. And in 2007 after 40 years of that work, we got the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. So then the next stage of that is to try to work on a treaty and also work up some charges of genocide. So that’s the main actual work rather than community work that I’ve done.

NO: Yeah. And you know what I love about that story and the core being there is you are asked to do and didn’t perceive that you had a right to do for. And that for me is an important principle in the work that I do, even in partnering with young people who are fighting to exit the criminal legal system and fighting to dismantle it, is really striving to do work that is led by those most impacted by an issue. And that requires that you listen and you’re available and you’re present, but you don’t assume that you get to decide the direction. You wait until you’re asked. And that’s a beautiful lesson.

One of the things that was so important about reading this book was the strength that was portrayed of Native peoples. I feel like the history I was taught in high school was, you know, good-intentioned white settlers fleeing persecution and prosecution—I’m sure both were happening—make their way to the United States to be free and they meet Indian people on the shore and they become friends and then they’re not friends. And then white people try to deliver freedom. What was I taught? This was AP classes. My goodness. But what was—as traumatic as reading this was in terms of just the genocide and the continuous attempts of the United States towards extermination—was the resilience, the strength and the continuing to resurge the fight, but also an attempt to preserve culture. I’m a cultural worker and I’m an artist and I believe that preserving our culture is so key. But I got to the end of the book and I finished with the water is life conclusion and I was like, ‘Yeah, we did that.’ And I was thinking about all the things Seattle did. And then it was like, well, what do we do next? And I’m wondering what are the things that you hope this book—well, the book that you wrote and then the book that was inspired—what are you hoping young people are inspired to be a part of or do? Reparations, land restitution is a huge call and there’s so many steps to getting to that. What’s your hope?

RDO: Well this book, when I published mine in 2014, Standing Rock hadn’t happened yet. And fortunately this could be added. Jean and Debbie were able to add material of what happened. Cause things happen all the time. And I tried to make the first book not too present so that it was dated, but Standing Rock was so extraordinarily important and remains an important, not really an event, but a sea change. I don’t know if you saw on television the Vietnam and Iraq vets and Veterans for Peace who asked for forgiveness for what the military had done in the past to the Lakota people. That was the most extraordinary thing I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Something at that level of bringing history to the present and linking it up with water. And the denial of water, water being life, is—when it’s a government that’s preventing the clean water—that is genocide, that fits into the genocide convention of creating conditions that make it impossible for the people to continue as a people. That’s the real definition of what genocide is in the genocide convention is. So, what was your question?

NO: I love it, the historian brain. What’s your hope?

RDO: Oh, my hope. Yes, I’m avoiding that. What is my hope? It’s kind of hard to be hopeful these days, isn’t it? It really feels like uphill and especially I think for us all veterans—and I’m sure there are many here, as Seattle was certainly on the map for sixties uprisings—Native peoples and Black Panthers up here and students and this feeling that everything that was accomplished with so much struggle and so much sacrifice. People’s lives are just going backwards, backwards, just getting unwound. And then for younger people who are looking have our horizon and seeing the climate crisis. But I do think we need to stop and listen; what is that sound, is this history that is bubbling up and becoming apparent to people, what to do with that? So I guess I saw this book not as a handbook so much as a guide, contextualizing how to deal with it and how to also see that it holds within it a much better future than the one that hangs on to settler colonial narratives of the great pioneers, of the perfect constitution. Of course slave owners make perfect constitutions, isn’t that logical? Indian killing slave owners, must be perfect.

NO: I have some comments about patriarchy and white men to go along with that, but I’ll keep them to myself, kind of. I think that that’s a great place—I’m getting ready to open the mic up for questions and I know they’re going to tell you that we need to prioritize young people, but I’m going to emphasize prioritizing young people’s questions first—but you talking about us getting to the root of things and having that bubble up to the surface. You know, I was thinking about, as painful as it is to learn true history, how much more pain and paralysis do we leave ourselves in when we live in a lie? And as a boxer I know that there is a certain amount of pain required to get to that next level. I know that your body sometimes is hurting before it is stronger. And I think as a nation we really have got to get comfortable with delving into this very painful history, experience that pain, move through it so we can actually be stronger and healthier. And I think material like this is so important for young people, but I think it’s important for all people and living in a city, if I’m honest, that is 65% white, what it means for white people to move through that pain of understanding and identifying what they benefit from. You know, cause we often hear, ‘Well I didn’t do it, that happened in history.’ Well, history is still now, and if we’re not willing to grapple with the things that we benefit from, then we’re being silent, which means we’re being complacent. And it is on us to do what is right. And I always say justice is just us being just us. So if we want to be just, if we want to do the right thing, we are really going to have to be willing to dig into the roots of how this whole thing started and then be willing to do the work to repair it. And I believe that young people who have been at the forefront of every world-changing social movement are really going to be the ones that lead us in that direction. So with that—

RDO: I want to give a shout out to what I think are the most important adults in the world, and that is teachers and librarians.

NO: Yes, shout out the educators and librarians.

RDO: And boy, do you ever have a task in front of you? Within those systems that control the education system, how can you be as subversive as possible?


NO: Yes, if you’re an educator in the room, we’re asking you to raise your hand. I didn’t mean it, but yeah. Identify all these educators, y’all. Thank you for that. So we’re going to open the mic up for questions. Go ahead Alex, or whomever is first.

Audience Member 1: It’s me again. I’m here. I was wondering what you think, how young should we teach children in school about these things? Because while it’s very important that they learn, I think it also takes a level of emotional maturity to get through that and it takes a lot of guidance, especially when they’re young and how much of that teachers can provide. So, when do you think we should start teaching these concepts to children in school?

RDO: It’s really a good question. I think it’s not the age so much. I think it can start even in kindergarten or at home, even before school. The choice in the past has been this concept of multiculturalism, which I think is a neo-liberal invention in order to contradict the real revolutionary movements of the 1960s that—the red power and black power, Puerto Rican independence, these very militant women’s liberation movements—that demanded clarity and truth. We didn’t know as much then as can be known now, I didn’t know as much then. But I think that one thing that developed in the seventies and eighties is this ‘what have different oppressed groups of people contributed to the greatness of the United States?’ And so we had corn, beans and squash and canoes and parkas for native people. It wasn’t really—well the idea of Crispus Attucks dying in the revolution for African Americans or having built Washington DC and actually built the capitalist economy of the United States, the labor, these contributions are women contributing and doing women’s history— the greatness of the country, it was always assumed. This greatness that existed and who contributed to it. And I think that that got so far away then from them, but it’s still kind of in the mentality of parents and teachers who think we have to give something positive, we can’t just be negative. But what’s positive is the resistance, you know, the resistance of oppressed peoples and the resistance of St. John Brown, who is what I would consider a model for a white alliance-hood.

And so that resistance is positive. And I think there’s some slippage in that even in Native American communities; well, why emphasize Sitting Bull and Tecumseh? These are people who picked up arms and fought against the United States and saw the United States as an implacable enemy and predicted almost everything that’s happened today. Crazy Horse said, ‘They want to privatize the land. What will be next? The water and the sky?’ Well, yes, that’s what’s next with capitalism. So I think that’s what we have to pull out and I tried to do in the book and I think the young people’s book does it even better for young people, these positives being what the ancestors have done and what can be done today and in terms of resistance. So resistance is a positive, not a negative. And rather than a contribution, I don’t want to think that anything I ever do contributes to one iota to strengthening what the United States is as it is now. You know, of making it more imperialist, more militaristic cause that’s its direction. So we have to think of how—the importance of Native American land and Native American demands is— how do we begin to deconstruct the United States as an entity? And really think in those positive, I consider that positive thinking.

NO: And I would just add to that, I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach children the truth. We teach them the lie almost immediately. We have young children who from a very young age will choose a doll that doesn’t look like them because they were already taught that the way they look is a problem. So we’re teaching them the messages we don’t want them to have just by virtue of them being in society. So I don’t think it’s ever too early to start teaching them the messages and the truth history that we want them to have now. I appreciate your question. What’s up?

Audience Member 2: What do you think is the most important thing about learning our history?

RDO: I think the most important thing is that children like yourself, young people, ask questions that push your teacher to tell you the truth and you kind of know when someone’s not telling you everything. I remember what I was maybe a little bit older than you, but I couldn’t figure out what the first World War was about and no one seemed to be able to explain it and I just couldn’t figure out what it was about. And I was really interested because I lived at a time when there were still veterans from the first World War and even they couldn’t figure it out. So then someone said to me—and she turned out to be a socialist, of course—she says it was a rich man’s war in a poor man’s fight. And I said, ‘Ah, that makes sense.’ Cause I knew what rich and poor was about and it made perfect sense then and then I could build upon that and really see what a horror it was—I mean in terms of empire and genocide—what it was really about. And it led to fascism. So you build, you force your teacher cause you’re the person in charge. This person teaching you has a duty to you to tell you the truth.

NO: See the young people have the good questions. Yeah, that’s all you.

Audience Member 3: All right. So I’m going to preface this by saying that my question is probably going to make a lot of people really unhappy with me, but I try to think of myself as a pragmatic idealist rather than just an idealist. So at the very beginning you brought up the idea of returning Native lands to Native people. But at the moment there are several million people living in Seattle. Are you proposing that we relocate all of the non-Native people from Seattle to somewhere else? Where else? It’s a great idea, but it does not seem realistic to me. So how can we make reparations? Reparations must be about making amends and changing the future, not about trying to change or rewrite the past or deny the present no matter how distasteful the ladder. How can we make reparations while also acknowledging reality?

RDO: Good questions. [It’s] important to understand what is meant by restoration of a native land. There were treaties between Native people and the U.S. government. And there were treaties with the British before that and treaties with the Spanish and that native people were nations, they were on the defensive being attacked by outsiders coming in, but they recognize, not all treaties, but the legitimate treaties that were agreed to by the kind of consensus form that was practice. For some treaties they would just drag a couple of Native men out and said, ‘Put your mark here’ and it was a paper treaty. It was—well for instance it was the Treaty of Echota that forcibly relocated the Cherokee nation. They actually close down the Cherokee newspaper, they lock the leaders in a building, padlock them or whatever locks they had at the time, by guards and chose a few people to sign that removal treaty. So that is an illegitimate treaty. The land, most of it—I mean, there are places like Palm Springs, Salamanca, New York, Denver, Colorado, Albuquerque, and quite a few that were leased, cities that were leased, and those claims have been, in the last 40 years, have been where the lease payments were like a dollar a year or something and the settlers stopped paying a long time ago. So there’s one documentary on Salamanca, which goes through that process. So a lot of those claims have been settled so that the payments are more up to date. But it’s still leased land. Land titles all over New Mexico are very unclear. There’s hardly any clear land titles at all there. So it’s a very shaky ground because of the kind of settlement. But there are these millions of acres of land under the federal government trust, almost all of that land was taken without treaty and is still under federal government and people don’t live there, and including the national parks. These are sacred areas that were annexed. Obviously Yosemite or Yellowstone; these places obviously are sacred areas to Native people. And so the claim, as I put in the last part of the book, is that everything under federal control and state control should be returned to Native people and there are no people involved who have to be removed.

NO: I would also add in addition, that there’s land that can be returned that people are not on. Is that the assumption, is that native people—in that question—is that native people will treat the people who live here now the same way the people who stole the land treated native people?

I’m not sure that that’s how it would go down. I’m not sure native people would be as—some people might want some—but I don’t think native people would be as heartless in the way that it went down in terms of the land being stolen. And so I think we also would need to work from the assumption that there is a possibility of a reconciliation just in that act of returning. In addition to, obviously there’s land that nobody lives on that could be returned.

RDO: Yeah. And the national parks, I mean, why not have the particular Native nation like the Cheyenne controlling Yellowstone or the Central Valley People of California controlling Yosemite as they did before rather than park rangers? I mean, it’s true that when they have ceremonies, they would probably close the gates at certain times, like Taos does with its Blue Lake area that they did fight for and got returned. But that’s okay too, sometimes they close it, the federal government does too if there’s a fire or something. So for native people to have agency is not something taken away from white people. It’s a transfer from the federal government to Native nations.

NO: I think this will be the last question so make it good.

Audience Member 4: I know that you wrote another book that was inspired by some of the work that you had started in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, which was loaded cultural history of the second amendment, which is also a profoundly fascinating book for everyone, shout out to it. I was wondering just because you by necessity have to cover so much history and so many different stories and so many perspectives, is there something that you wish that you could have included or gone deeper into or something that you just weren’t able to get into the book, into An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States?

RDO: Well, yeah, An Indigenous People’s History of The United States is part of a wonderful series of Beacon Press revisioning American history. It was actually based on a concept that Howard Zinn came up with. He published his A People’s History of the United States with Beacon Press in 1980. Beacon press is—any unitarians here?


Ah, the unitarians are here! Beacon press is owned by the Unitarians and they— thank you for coming—it’s a very ethical press. It was founded as an abolitionist press in the 19th century. So he published and then his book took off and they sold it to Penguin and it became a bestseller and classic and everything. But before he passed away—Beacon Press of course is on Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts and he taught there—he came to the editors and he suggested that they do different people’s histories of the United States. So mine I think was the first, there’s a queer history of the United States in the works, a Latino and Black history the United States, a Black women’s history, it could go on endlessly revisioning American history. So the way it was conceived is that it would be by historians, scholars like Howard Zinn, it would be very solid, but also written for a general audience and not an academic scholarly book too laden with footnotes and so forth. And not too long, under 300 pages. So that’s the model I worked within and it was very difficult, let me tell you, cause I could have made it a thousand-page book and probably no one would read it. But I had to really work and I think it makes it much more effective that I—it ended up taking me about 7 years to write this book, mainly putting it off because it was just really hard to do. So that was the model. There are lots of things I’ve wanted to write on. Writing a book is really a difficult process. It seems like when I start writing an article, it turns into a book and then I did seven more years of my life—I don’t have that many years— but the book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time I am at work on, and I have a contract with Beacon for it and it’s on the concept of the nation of immigrants. So I’ve wanted to deal with settler colonialism in the context of what that means about immigration, cause you know, immigration as such didn’t really begin until the 1870s. Immigration as such, where there were immigration laws; there were none, right? Millions of Irish came, just got off boats, there were no immigration laws, the famine. So they were recruiting settlers all the time, you know, boatloads just to populate and fill the machine, especially the industrial revolution. So, what does that mean? You know, immigration and settler—the simple form is, I’m an immigrant who comes now, could choose to be a settler or choose to be part of the resistance to settler colonialism.

NO: Thank you. I just want to remember Jean Mendoza and Debbie Reese and their contribution to making this book even possible. Jean, will you just stand up one more time?


And I want to give you all—I like action points—so just a few things you could be doing. One is, if you feel so called, you could pay rent to the Duwamish. Alex who spoke up here is a part of a Clear Sky Youth Council, is that correct? Yes. Clear Sky Youth Council. You can support them and the work that they’re doing. You can show up for Fridays for Future at City Hall at 1:00 PM and support our youth that are fighting against the climate crisis. And October 9th is Indigenous People’s Day. You could take that day off in resistance to settler colonialism and capitalism and show up and march and show your support for our sovereign Native nations and pay your respects, build some relationships and get in the position to be asked to do things to support our relatives. So those are a few action items that we can do. Thank you for being here. And one more round of applause for all of you.

JP: Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle civic series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle artist David Bazan and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer John Nold. Check out our new season of Townhall Seattle’s original podcast, In The Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews someone coming to Town Hall. They get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind-the-scenes look into a presenter’s content, personality and interests. If you like our civic series, listen to our arts and culture and science series as well. For more information, check out our calendar of events, or to support Town Hall go to our website at

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