An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, For Young People


Authors: Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizDebbie ReeseJean Mendoza


Spanning more than 400 years, this classic bottom-up history examines the legacy of Indigenous peoples’ resistance, resilience, and steadfast fight against imperialism.

Going beyond the story of America as a country “discovered” by a few brave men in the “New World,” Indigenous human rights advocate Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reveals the roles that settler colonialism and policies of American Indian genocide played in forming our national identity.

The original academic text is fully adapted by renowned curriculum experts Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza, for middle-grade and young adult readers to include discussion topics, archival images, original maps, recommendations for further reading, and other materials to encourage students, teachers, and general readers to think critically about their own place in history.

Beacon Press

ISBN: 978-080704939-6
Publication Date: 7/23/2019
Size:5.5 x 8 Inches (US)

Price:  $18.95
Format: Paperback

BOOK Reviews


From the “Revisioning American History for Young Readers” series, volume 2

by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz ; adapted by Jean Mendoza & Debbie Reese

Age Range: 12 – 18

  1. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Book – Non-fiction. By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. 2015. 312 pages.

Four hundred years of Native American history from a bottom-up perspective.

  • Time Periods: 18th Century, 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century, All US History | Themes: Native American | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Books: Non-Fiction


Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the U.S. empire.


In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.” [Publisher’s description.]

Sample Text

This excerpt from An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, is useful for teaching about the #ChangetheMascot campaign regarding the Washington football team and other sports mascots.

“Redskins” (from Chapter Four: Bloody Footprints)

Indigenous people continued to resist by burning settlements and killing and capturing settlers. As an incentive to recruit fighters, colonial authorities introduced a program of scalp hunting that became a permanent and long-lasting element of settler warfare against Indigenous nations. During the Pequot War, Connecticut and Massachusetts colonial officials had offered bounties initially for the heads of murdered Indigenous people and later for only their scalps, which were more portable in large numbers. But scalp hunting became routine only in the mid-1670’s, following an incident on the northern frontier of the Massachusetts colony. The practice began in earnest in 1697 when settler Hannah Dustin, having murdered ten of her Abenaki captors in a nighttime escape, presented their ten scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly and was rewarded with bounties for two men, two women, and six children.

Dustin soon became a folk hero among New England settlers. Scalp hunting became a lucrative commercial practice. The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage settlers to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for the reward money. “In the process,” John Grenier points out, “they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities.” Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that for Indigenous children under ten, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between Indigenous combatants and noncombatants and introduced a market for Indigenous slaves. Bounties for Indigenous scalps were honored even in absence of war. Scalps and Indigenous children became means of exchange, currency, and this development may even have created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the Indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the wake of scalp-hunts: redskins.

This way of war, forged in the first century of colonization – destroying Indigenous villages and fields, killing civilians, ranging and scalp hunting – became the basis for the wars against the Indigenous across the continent into the late nineteenth century.

A message from the Publishers: Beacon Press


Dear reader,

When we sit down to our Thanksgiving meals, we sit on the fact that the holiday hides the truth about our national origin story, which has silenced the voices of Native Americans. “That narrative is wrong,” Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, “not in facts, dates and details—but rather in essence.” That doesn’t mean we can’t correct it. We can weed out all the colonialist myths about Indigenous people that remain with us today.

The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower is coming up, and people are hungry for a more accurate history and ready to chuck the misperceptions that result in racism toward Native Americans. Hopefully as hungry as they are for turkey and cranberry sauce. In “All the Real Indians Died Off,” Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker uncover history that isn’t well known in classrooms or acknowledged by the general public.

Some examples:

  • Thanksgiving is a US holiday that celebrates the national origin myth. The purported celebratory meal of the “Pilgrims” did not entail the giving of food as a gift between the Native Americans and the colonizers. Native Americans were there as servants, and their foods—the corn, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and turkey that became staples in today’s holiday meal—were confiscated.
  • The fallacy of Christopher Columbus discovering America is the US’s foundational myth that celebrates European imperialism. It omits Columbus’s role as the originator of the transatlantic slave trade. The national holiday that honors his arrival to the Americas actually celebrates settler colonialism, not Columbus per se.
  • Reservations are creations of a foreign legal system, not gifts to Native Americans from the US government. Indigenous peoples ceded their lands to the US, (often under duress, or had them forcibly taken through treaties), reserving large tracts for themselves. Some were reserved by executive order or congressional acts.
  • Today, there are over 500 federally recognized Indigenous communities and nations, comprising nearly three million people. These are the descendants of the once fifteen million people who inhabited this land. In spite of all attempts throughout the centuries to eliminate Native Americans, they have been resilient and dynamic.

Native American Heritage Month is every November and shouldn’t be the only time we look critically at our country’s history and the stories our nation tells itself. Thankfully, we have books by Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker as well as other resources (like these middle-school lesson plans for teaching about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Thanksgiving, and the Mayflower) to decolonize the narrative of our past, present, and future. Let’s make this an everlasting Truthsgiving season!

Happy Native American Heritage Month!
Christian Coleman
Associate Digital Marketing Manager

Truth-Telling for Truthsgiving from Our Authors


Spoiler Alert! Thanksgiving Doesn’t Prove the Indians Welcomed the Pilgrims
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker


Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of Settler Privilege
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker


Settler Fragility: Why Settler Privilege Is So Hard to Talk About
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker


Words That Matter: Black and Indigenous Solidarity and the Right to Language
Kyle T. Mays

Decolonizing Our History Starts Here





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