+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com


please answer all parts of the prompt and be sure that your initial post reaches the full 400 word minimum requirement. Don’t forget to also post a response of at least 200 words to a peer’s post as well!

1) Describe the trajectory of what happens in the textbook chapter, “From Sea to Shining Sea.” How does the term “Manifest Destiny” relate to the chapter? Be sure to provide specific examples from the textbook.

2) How does your K-12 education relate to (or differ from) the experiences mentioned in Lim’s article “Educating Elementary School Students on California Missions”? What “myths” does Lim discuss in the article? What solution(s) is provided?

3) According to the article “The San Diego Mission and Kumeyaay Revolt: A Decolonized Mission Project,” what happened during the Kumeyaay revolt? Also, how exactly was the author’s daughter’s modern-day 4th grade mission project “decolonizing” or an example of decolonization?

4) In the article “What the ‘California Dream’ Means to Indigenous Peoples,” how does the author define the “California Dream”? What does the “California Dream” mean to Indigenous peoples? What solution does the author suggest?

5) Lastly, please share your overall thoughts/reactions/reflections on this week’s materials.

AN � �
U.S. $27.95
(continued from front flap)
CAN $32.95
Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic
bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US
“A must-read for anyone interested in the truth
behind this nation’s founding.”
history and explodes the silences that have haunted
our national narrative.
Jicar”illa Apache author, historian, and publisher
of Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country
Today in the United States, there are more than five
hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations
comprising nearly three million people, descen­
dants of the fifteen million Native people who once
inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocid­
al program of the US settler-colonial regimen has
largely been omitted from history. Now, for the
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma,
first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne
the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian
Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States
mother. She has been active in the international
told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples
Indigenous movement for more than four decades
and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries,
and is known for her lifelong commitment to na­
actively resisted expansion of the US empire.
tional and international social justice issues. After
receiving her PhD in history at the University of
In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,
California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly
Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth
established Native American Studies Program at
of the United States and shows how policy against
California State University, Hayward, and helped
Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to
found the departments of Ethnic Studies and
seize the territories of the original inhabitants, dis­
Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book The Great Sioux
placing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz
Nation was the fundamental document at the first
reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture,
international conference on Indigenous peoples of
through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and
the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquar­
Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of gov­
ters in Geneva. Dunbar-Ortiz is the author or editor
ernment and the military. As the genocidal policy
of seven other books, including Roots of Resistance:
reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson,
A History ofLand Tenure in New Mexico. She lives in
its shocking ruthlessness was best articulated by US
San Francisco.
Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote
of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them
only by exterminating them.”
Jacket design and photo illustration: Gabi Anderson
Jacket art: Images courtesy of Veer
Beacon Press
(continued on back flap)
A N I N D I G E N O U S P E O P L E S ‘ H I S T O RY
“In this riveting book, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz decolonizes American his­
tory and illustrates definitively why the past is never very far from the pres­
ent. Exploring the borderlands between action and narration-between
what happened and what is said to have happened-Dunbar-Ortiz strips
us of our forged innocence, shocks us into new awarenesses, and draws a
straight line from the sins of our fathers-settler-colonialism, the doctrine
of discovery, the myth of manifest destiny, white supremacy, theft, and
systematic killing-to the contemporary condition of permanent war, inva­
sion and occupation, mass incarceration, and the constant use and threat
of state violence. Best of all, she points a way beyond amnesia, paralyzing
guilt, or helplessness toward discovering our deepest humanity in a project
of truth-telling and repair. An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United
States will forever change the way we read history and understand our own
responsibility to it.”
– B I L L AY E R S
“Dunbar-Ortiz provides a historical analysis o f the US colonial framework
from the perspective of an Indigenous human rights advocate. Her assess­
ment and conclusions are necessary tools for all Indigenous peoples seeking
to address and remedy the legacy of US colonial domination that continues
to subvert Indigenous human rights in today’s globalized world.”
Native Hawai’ian international
law expert on Indigenous peoples’ rights and former
Kia Aina (prime minister) of Ka La Hui Hawai’i
– M I L I L A N I B. T R A S K,
“Justice-seekers everywhere will celebrate Dunbar-Ortiz’s unflinching
commitment to truth-a truth that places settler-colonialism and genocide
exactly where they belong: as foundational to the existence of the United
PhD, activist and author of
For Indigenous Minds Only: A Decolonization Handbook
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United
States is a fiercely honest, unwavering, and unprecedented statement, one
that has never been attempted by any other historian or intellectual. The
presentation of facts and arguments is clear and direct, unadorned by need­
less and pointless rhetoric, and there is an organic feel of intellectual solid­
ity that provides weight and inspires trust. It is truly an Indigenous peoples’
voice that gives Dunbar-Ortiz’s book direction, purpose, and trustworthy
intention. Without doubt, this crucially important book is required reading
for everyone in the Americas!”
Regents Professor of English and
American Indian Studies, Arizona State University
-S I M O N J. O R T IZ,
“An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States provides an essential
historical reference for all Americans. Particularly, it serves as an indispens­
able text for students of all ages to advance their appreciation and greater
understanding of our history and our rightful place in America. The Ameri­
can Indians’ perspective has been absent from colonial histories for too
long, leaving continued misunderstandings of our struggles for sovereignty
and human rights.”
– P E T E RSO N Z A H ,
former president of the Navajo Nation
“This may well be the most important US history book you will read in
your lifetime.- If you are expecting yet another ‘new’ and improved his­
torical narrative or synthesis of Indians in North America, think again.
Instead Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz radically reframes US history, destroying
all foundation myths to reveal a brutal settler-colonial structure and ideol­
ogy designed to cover its bloody tracks. Here, rendered in honest, often
poetic words, is the story of those tracks and the people who survived­
bloodied but unbowed. Spoiler alert: the colonial era is still here, and so are
the Indians.”
– ROB I N D. G. K ELL E Y,
author of Freedom Dreams
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes a masterful story that relates what the In­
digenous peoples of the United States have always maintained: against the
settler US nation, Indigenous peoples have persevered against actions and
policies intended to exterminate them, whether physically, mentally, or in­
tellectually. Indigenous nations and their people continue to bear witness to
their experiences under the US and demand justice as well as the realization
of sovereignty on their own terms.”
associate professor of American studies,
University of New Mexico, and author of Reclaiming Dine History
“In her in-depth and intelligent analysis of US history from the Indigenous
perspective, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz challenges readers to rethink the myth
that Indian lands were free lands and that genocide was a justifiable means
to a glorious end. A must-read for anyone interested in the truth behind this
nation’s founding and its often contentious relationship with indigenous
PhD, Jicarilla Apache author,
historian, and publisher of Tiller’s Guide to Indian Country
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United
States should be essential reading in schools and colleges. It pulls up the
paving stones and lays bare the deep history of the United States, from the
corn to the reservations. If the United States is a ‘crime scene,’ as she calls
it, then Dunbar-Ortiz is its forensic scientist. A sobering look at a grave
author of The Poorer Nations
The Great Sioux Nation :
A n Oral History o f the Sioux Nation and Its Struggle for Sovereignty
Roots of Resistance:
A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico
Blood on the Border:
A Memoir of the Contra War
Outlaw Woman:
A Memoir of the War Years, I960-I975
Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie
A Queer History of the United States
by Michael Bronski
A Disability History of the United States
by Kim E. Nielsen
Boston, Massachusetts
Beacon Press books
are published under the auspices of
the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.
© 2014 by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Beacon Press’s ReVisioning American History series consists of
accessibly written books by notable scholars that reconstruct
and reinterpret US history from diverse perspectives.
This book is printed on acid-free paper that meets the uncoated paper
ANSUNISO specifications for permanence as revised in 1992.
Text design and composition by Wilsted & Taylor Publishing Services
Excerpts from Simon J. Ortiz’s from Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart
Which Is Our America (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000)
are reprinted here with permission.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne.
An indigenous peoples’ history of the United States I Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
pages cm – (ReVisioning American history)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8070-0040-3 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-8070-0041-0 (ebook)
Indians of North America-Historiography.
2. Indians of North America-Colonization. 3. Indians, Treatment of­
United States-History. 4. United States-Colonization. 5. United States­
Race relations. 6. United States-Politics and government. I. Title.
E76.8.D86 2014
Howard Adams (L92L-200L)
Vine Deloria fr. (L933-2005}
Jack Forbes (L934-2on)
Author’s Note
This Land
Follow the Corn
Culture of Conquest
Cult of the Covenant
Bloody Footprints
The Birth of a Nation
The Last of the Mohicans and
Andrew Jackson’s White Republic
Sea to Shining Sea
” Indian Country”
US Triumphalism and Peacetime Colonialism
Ghost Dance Prophecy: A Nation Is Coming
The Doctrine of Discovery
The Future of the United States
2 37
Works Cited
Suggested Reading
A s a student o f history, having completed a master’s degree and PhD
in the discipline, I am grateful for all I learned from my professors
and from the thousands of texts I studied. But I did not gain the
perspective presented in this book from those professors or studies.
This came from outside the academy.
My mother was part Indian, most likely Cherokee, born in Jop­
lin, Missouri. Unenrolled and orphaned, having lost her mother to
tuberculosis at age four and with an Irish father who was itinerant
and alcoholic, she grew up neglected and often homeless along with
a younger brother. Picked up by authorities on the streets of Harrah,
Oklahoma, the town to which their father had relocated the family,
she was placed in foster homes where she was abused, expected to be
a servant, and would run away. When she was sixteen, she met and
married my father, of Scots-Irish settler heritage, eighteen, and a
high school dropout who worked as a cowboy on a sprawling cattle
ranch in the Osage Nation. I was the last of their four children. As
a sharecropper family in Canadian County, Oklahoma, we moved
from one cabin to another. I grew up in the midst of rural Native
communities in the former treaty territory of the Southern Cheyenne
and Arapaho Nations that had been allotted and opened to settlers
in the late nineteenth century. Nearby was the federal Indian board­
ing school at Concho. Strict segregation ruled a mong the Black,
white, and Indian towns, churches, and schools in Oklahoma, and I
had little interchange with Native people. My mother was ashamed
of being part Indian. She died of alcoholism.
In California during the r9 6os, I was active in the civil rights,
anti-apartheid, anti-Vietnam War, and women’s liberation move­
ments, and ultimately, the pan-Indian movement that some labeled
Author’s Note
Red Power. I was recruited to work on Native issues in 1970 by the
remarkable Tuscarora traditionalist organizer Mad Bear Anderson,
who insisted that I must embrace my Native heritage, however frag­
ile it might be. Although hesitant at first, following the Wounded
Knee siege of 1973 I began to work-locally, around the country,
and internationally-with the American Indian Movement and the
International Indian Treaty Council. I also began serving as an ex­
pert witness in court cases, including that of the Wounded Knee de­
fendants, bringing me into discussions with Lakota Sioux elders and
activists. Based in San Francisco during that volatile and historic
period, I completed my doctorate in history in 1974 and then took
a position teaching in a new Native American studies program. My
dissertation was on the history of land tenure in New Mexico, and
during 1978-198 1 I was visiting director of Native American stud­
ies at the University of New Mexico. There I worked collaboratively
with the All Indian Pueblo Council, Mescalero Apache Nation, Na­
vajo Nation, and the Dinebe’iina Nahiilna be Agha’diit’ahii (DNA)
People’s Legal Services, as well as with Native students, faculty, and
communities, in developing a research institute and a seminar train­
ing program in economic development.
I have lived with this book for six years, starting over a dozen
times before I settled on a narrative thread. Invited to write this
ReVisioning American History series title, I was given parameters:
it was to be intellectually rigorous but relatively brief and written
accessibly so it would engage multiple audiences. I had grave misgiv­
ings after having agreed to this ambitious project. Although it was
to be a history of the United States as experienced by the Indigenous
inhabitants, how could I possibly do justice to that varied experience
over a span of two centuries? How could I make it comprehensible
to the general reader who would likely have little knowledge of Na­
tive American history on the one hand, but might consciously or
unconsciously have a set narrative of US history on the other? Since
I was convinced of the inherent importance of the project, I per­
sisted, reading or rereading books and articles by North American
Indigenous scholars, novelists, and poets, as well as unpublished dis­
sertations, speeches, and testimonies, truly an extraordinary body
of work.
Author’s Note
I ‘ve come to realize that a new periodization of US history is
needed that traces the Indigenous experience as opposed to the fol­
lowing standard division: Colonial, Revolutionary, Jacksonian, Civil
War and Reconstruction, Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age,
Overseas Imperialism, Progressivism, World War I , Depression,
New Deal, World War II, Cold War, and Vietnam War, followed by
contemporary decades. I altered this periodization to better reflect
Indigenous experience but not as radically as needs to be done. This
is an issue much discussed in current Native American scholarship.
I also wanted to set aside the rhetoric of race, not because race
and racism are unimportant but to emphasize that Native peoples
were colonized and deposed of their territories as distinct peoples­
hundreds of nations-not as a racial or ethnic group. “Coloniza­
tion,” “dispossession,” “settler colonialism,” “genocide”-these are
the terms that drill to the core of US history, to the very source of the
country’s existence.
The charge of genocide, once unacceptable by establishment aca­
demic and political classes when applied to the United States, has
gained currency as evidence of it has mounted, but it is too often ac­
companied by an assumption of disappearance. So I realized it was
crucial to make the reality and significance of Indigenous peoples’
survival clear throughout the book. Indigenous survival as peoples
is due to centuries of resistance and storytelling passed through the
generations, and I sought to demonstrate that this survival is dy­
namic, not passive. Surviving genocide, by whatever means, is re­
sistance: non-Indians must know this in order to more accurately
understand the history of the United States.
My hope is that this book will be a springboard to dialogue about
history, the present reality of Indigenous peoples’ experience, and
the meaning and future of the United States itself.
A note on terminology: I use ” Indigenous,” ” Indian,” and “Native”
interchangeably in the text. Indigenous individuals and peoples in
North America on the whole do not consider “Indian” a slur. Of
course, all citizens of Native nations much prefer that their nations’
names in their own language be used, such as Dine ( Navajo), Haude­
nosaunee ( Iroquois), Tsalagi (Cherokee), and Anishinaabe (Ojibway,
Author’s Note
Chippewa). I have used some of the correct names combined with
more familiar usages, such as ” Sioux” and ” Navajo.” Except in ma­
terial that is quoted, I don’t use the term “tribe.” ” Community,”
“people,” and ” nation” are used instead and interchangeably. I also
refrain from using “America” and “American” when referring only
to the United States and its citizens. Those blatantly imperialistic
terms annoy people in the rest of the Western Hemisphere, who are,
after all, also Americans. I use “United States” as a noun and “US”
as an adjective to refer to the country and “US Americans” for its
We are here to educate, not forgive.
We are here to enlighten, not accuse.
-Willie Johns, Brighton Seminole Reservation, Florida
Under the crust of that portion of Earth called the United States of
America-“from California . . . to the Gulf Stream waters”-are
interred the bones, villages, fields, and sacred objects of American
Indians. 1 They cry out for their stories to be heard through their de­
scendants who carry the memories of how the country was founded
and how it came to be as it is today.
It should not have happened that the great civilizations of the
Western Hemisphere, the very evidence of the Western Hemisphere,
were wantonly destroyed, the gradual progress of humanity inter­
rupted and set upon a path of greed and destruction. 2 Choices were
made that forged that path toward destruction of life itself-the
moment in which we now live and die as our planet shrivels, over­
heated. To learn and know this history is both a necessity and a
responsibility to the ancestors and descendants of all parties.
What historian D avid Chang has written about the land that
became Oklahoma applies to the whole United States: “Nation, race,
and class converged in land.”3 Everything in US history is about the
land-who oversaw and cultivated it, fished its waters, maintained
its wildlife; who invaded and stole it; how it became a commod­
ity ( “real estate” ) broken into pieces to be bought and sold on the
US policies and actions related to Indigenous peoples, though
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
often termed “racist” or “discriminatory,” are rarely depicted as
what they are: classic cases of imperialism and a particular form of
colonialism-settler colonialism. As anthropologist Patrick Wolfe
writes, “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of set­
tler colonialism. Land is life-or, at least, land is necessary for life.”4
The history of the United States is a history of settler colonial­
ism-the founding of a state based on the ideology of white su­
premacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy
of genocide and land theft. Those who seek history with an upbeat
ending, a history of redemption and reconciliation, may look around
and observe that such a conclusion is not visible, not even in utopian
dreams of a better society.
Writing US history from an Indigenous peoples’ perspective re­
quires rethinking the consensual national narrative. That narrative
is wrong or deficient, not in its facts, dates, or details but rather in
its essence. Inherent in the myth we’ve been taught is an embrace of
settler colonialism and genocide. The myth persists, not for a lack
of free speech or poverty of information but rather for an absence
of motivation to ask questions that challenge the core of the scripted
narrative of the origin story. How might acknowledging the reality
of US history work to transform society? That is the central question
this book pursues.
Teaching Native American studies, I always begin with a sim­
ple exercise. I ask students to quickly draw a rough outline of the
United States at the time it gained independence from Britain. In­
variably most draw the approximate present shape of the United
States from the Atlantic to the Pacific-the continental territory not
fully appropriated until a century after independence. What became
independent in 1 78 3 were the thirteen British colonies hugging the
Atlantic shore. When called on this, students are embarrassed be­
cause they know better. I assure them that they are not alone. I call
this a Rorschach test of unconscious “manifest destiny,” embedded
in the minds of nearly everyone in the United States and around the
world. This test reflects the seeming inevitability of US extent and
power, its destiny, with an implication that the continent had previ­
ously been terra nullius, a land without people.
Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” celebrates that the
Introduction: This Land
land belongs to everyone, reflecting the unconscious manifest des­
tiny we live with. But the extension of the United States from sea to
shining sea was the intention and design of the country’s founders.
” Free” land was the magnet that attracted European settlers. Many
were slave owners who desired limitless land for lucrative cash crops.
After the war for independence but preceding the writing of the US
Constitution, the Continental Congress produced the Northwest
Ordinance. This was the first law of the incipient republic, revealing
the motive for those desiring independence. It was the blueprint for
gobbling up the British-protected Indian Territory ( ” Ohio Coun­
try” ) on the other side of the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Britain
had made settlement there illegal with the Proclamation of 1 76 3.
In 1801, President Jefferson aptly described the new settler-state’s
intentions for horizontal and vertical continental expansion, stating:
” However our present interests may restrain us within our own lim­
its, it is impossible not to look forward to distant times, when our
rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover
the whole northern, if not the southern continent, with a people
speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar
laws.” This vision of manifest destiny found form a few years later in
the Monroe Doctrine, signaling the intention of annexing or domi­
nating former Spanish colonial territories in the Americas and the Pa­
cific, which would be put into practice during the rest of the century.
Origin narratives form the vital core of a people’s unifying iden­
tity and of the values that guide them. In the United States, the
founding and development of the Anglo-American settler-state in­
volves a narrative about Puritan settlers who had a covenant with
God to take the land. That part of the origin story is supported and
reinforced by the Columbus myth and the ” Doctrine of Discovery.”
According to a series of late-fifteenth-century papal bulls, European
nations acquired title to the lands they “discovered” and the Indig­
enous inhabitants lost their natural right to that land after Europe­
ans arrived and claimed it. 5 As law professor Robert A. Williams
observes about the Doctrine of Discovery:
Responding to the requirements of a paradoxical age of Re­
naissance and Inquisition, the West’s first modern discourses
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
of conquest articulated a vision of all humankind united
under a rule of law discoverable solely by human reason. Un­
fortunately for the American Indian, the West’s first tentative
steps towards this noble vision of a Law of Nations contained
a mandate for Europe’s subjugation of all peoples whose radi­
cal divergence from European-derived norms of right conduct
signified their need for conquest and remediation. 6
The Columbus myth suggests that from US independence on­
ward, colonial settlers saw themselves as part of a world system of
colonization. ” Columbia,” the poetic, Latinate name used in refer­
ence to the United States from its founding throughout the nine­
teenth century, was based on the name of Christopher Columbus.
The ” Land of Columbus” was-and still is-represented by the im­
age of a woman in sculptures and paintings, by institutions such as
Columbia University, and by countless place names, including that
of the national capital, the District of Columbia. 7 The 1798 hymn
” Hail, Columbia” was the early national anthem and is now used
whenever the vice president of the United States makes a public ap­
pearance, and Columbus Day is still a federal holiday despite Co­
lumbus never having set foot on the continent claimed by the United
Traditionally, historians of the United States hoping to have suc­
cessful careers in academia and to author lucrative school textbooks
became protectors of this origin myth. With the cultural upheavals
in the academic world during the 19 60s, engendered by the civil
rights movement and student activism, historians came to call for
objectivity and fairness in revising interpretations of US history.
They warned against moralizing, urging instead a dispassionate
and culturally relative approach. Historian Bernard Sheehan, in an
influential essay, called for a “cultural conflict” understanding of
Native-Euro-American relations in the early United States, writing
that this approach “diffuses the locus of guilt.”8 In striving for ” bal­
ance,” however, historians spouted platitudes: “There were good
and bad people on both sides.” “American culture is an amalgama­
tion of all its ethnic groups.” “A frontier is a zone of interaction be­
tween cultures, not merely advancing European settlements.”
Introduction: This Land
L ater, trendy postmodernist studies insisted on Indigenous
“agency” under the guise of individual and collective empowerment,
making the casualties of colonialism responsible for their own de­
mise. Perhaps worst of all, some claimed (and still claim) that the
colonizer and colonized experienced an “encounter” and engaged
in “dialogue,” thereby masking reality with justifications and ratio­
nalizations-in short, apologies for one-sided robbery and murder.
In focusing on “cultural change” and “conflict between cultures,”
these studies avoid fundamental questions about the formation of
the United States and its implications for the present and future.
This approach to history allows one to safely put aside present re­
sponsibility for continued harm done by that past and the questions
of reparations, restitution, and reordering society. 9
Multiculturalism became the cutting edge of post-civil-rights­
movement US history revisionism. For this scheme to work-and
affirm US historical progress-Indigenous nations and communities
had to be left out of the picture. As territorially and treaty-based
peoples in North America, they did not fit the grid of multicultur­
alism but were included by transforming them into an inchoate
oppressed racial group, while colonized Mexican Americans and
Puerto Ricans were dissolved into another such group, variously
called “Hispanic” or ” Latino.” The multicultural approach empha­
sized the “contributions” of individuals from oppressed groups to
the country’s assumed greatness. Indigenous peoples were thus cred­
ited with corn, beans, buckskin, log cabins, parkas, maple syrup,
canoes, hundreds of place names, Thanksgiving, and even the con­
cepts of democracy and federalism. But this idea of the gift-giving
Indian helping to establish and enrich the development of the United
States is an insidious smoke screen meant to obscure the fact that the
very existence of the country is a result of the looting of an entire
continent and its resources. The fundamental unresolved issues of
Indigenous lands, treaties, and sovereignty could not but scuttle the
premises of multiculturalism.
With multiculturalism, manifest destiny won the day. As an
example, in 1994 , Prentice Hall (part of Pearson Education) pub­
lished a new college-level US history textbook, authored by four
members of a new generation of revisionist historians. These radical
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
social historians are all brilliant scholars with posts in prestigious
universities. The book’s title reflects the intent of its authors and
publisher: Out of Many: A History of the American People. The ori­
gin story of a supposedly unitary nation, albeit now multicultural,
remained intact. The original cover design featured a multicolored
woven fabric-this image meant to stand in place of the discredited
“melting pot.” Inside, facing the title page, was a photograph of a
Navajo woman, dressed formally in velvet and adorned with heavy
sterling silver and turquoise j ewelry. With a traditional Navaj o
dwelling, a hogan, in the background, the woman was shown kneel­
ing in front of a traditional loom, weaving a nearly finished rug.
The design? The Stars and Stripes! The authors, upon hearing my
objection and explanation that Navajo weavers make their livings
off commissioned work that includes the desired design, responded:
” But it’s a real photograph.” To the authors’ credit, in the second
edition they replaced the cover photograph and removed the Navajo
picture inside, although the narrative text remains unchanged.
Awareness of the settler-colonialist context of US history writ­
ing is essential if one is to avoid the laziness of the default position
and the trap of a mythological unconscious belief in manifest des­
tiny. The form of colonialism that the Indigenous peoples of North
America have experienced was modern from the beginning: the ex­
pansion of European corporations, backed by government armies,
into foreign areas, with subsequent expropriation of lands and re­
sources. Settler colonialism is a genocidal policy. Native nations and
communities, while struggling to maintain fundamental values and
collectivity, have from the beginning resisted modern colonialism
using both defensive and offensive techniques, including the mod­
ern forms of armed resistance of national liberation movements and
what now is called terrorism. In every instance they have fought for
survival as peoples. The objective of US colonialist authorities was
to terminate their existence as peoples-not as random individuals.
This is the very definition of modern genocide as contrasted with
premodern instances of extreme violence that did not have the goal
of extinction. The United States as a socioeconomic and political
entity is a result of this centuries-long and ongoing colonial process.
Introduction: This Land
Modern Indigenous nations and communities are societies formed
by their resistance to colonialism, through which they have carried
their practices and histories. It is breathtaking, but no miracle, that
they have survived as peoples .
To say that the United States i s a colonialist settler-state is not
to make an accusation but rather to face historical reality, without
which consideration not much in US history makes sense, unless
Indigenous peoples are erased. But Indigenous nations, through re­
sistance, have survived and bear witness to this history. In the era
of worldwide decolonization in the second half of the twentieth cen­
tury, the former colonial powers and their intellectual apologists
mounted a counterforce, often called neocolonialism, from which
multiculturalism and postmodernism emerged. Although much
revisionist US history reflects neocolonialist strategy-an attempt
to accommodate new realities in order to retain the dominance­
neocolonialist methods signal victory for the colonized. Such ap­
proaches pry off a lid long kept tightly fastened . One result has been
the presence of significant numbers of Indigenous scholars in US
universities who are changing the terms of analysis. The main chal­
lenge for scholars in revising US history in the context of colonialism
is not lack of information, nor is it one of methodology. Certainly
difficulties with documentation are no more problematic than they
are in any other area of research. Rather, the source of the problems
has been the refusal or inability of US historians to comprehend the
nature of their own history, US history. The fundamental problem is
the absence of the colonial framework.
Through economic penetration of Indigenous societies, the Eu­
ropean and Euro-American colonial powers created economic de­
pendency and imbalance of trade, then incorporated the Indigenous
nations into spheres of influence and controlled them indirectly or
as protectorates, with indispensable use of Christian missionaries
and alcohol. In the case of US settler colonialism, land was the pri­
mary commodity. With such obvious indicators of colonialism at
work, why should so many interpretations of US political-economic
development be convoluted and obscure, avoiding the obvious? To
some extent, the twentieth-century emergence of the field of “US
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
West” or ” Borderlands” history has been forced into an incomplete
and flawed settler-colonialist framework. The father of that field of
history, Frederick Jackson Turner, confessed as much in 1 9 0 1 : ” Our
colonial system did not start with the Spanish War [1 8 9 8 ] ; the U. S .
had had a colonial history and policy from the beginning o f the
Republic; but they have been hidden under the phraseology of ‘inter­
state migration’ and ‘territorial organization.”‘ 1 0
Settler colonialism, as an institution or system, requires violence
or the threat of violence to attain its goals. People do not hand over
their land, resources, children, and futures without a fight, and that
fight is met with violence. In employing the force necessary to ac­
complish its expansionist goals, a colonizing regime institutionalizes
violence. The notion that settler-indigenous conflict is an inevitable
product of cultural differences and misunderstandings, or that vio­
lence was committed equally by the colonized and the colonizer,
blurs the nature of the historical processes. Euro-American colonial­
ism, an aspect of the capitalist economic globalization, had from its
beginnings a genocidal tendency.
The term “genocide” was coined following the Shoah, or Ho­
locaust, and its prohibition was enshrined in the United Nations
convention adopted in 194 8 : the UN Convention on the Prevention
and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention is not
retroactive but is applicable to US-Indigenous relations since 19 8 8 ,
when the U S Senate ratified it. The terms of the genocide convention
are also useful tools for historical analysis of the effects of colonial­
ism in any era. In the convention, any one of five acts is considered
genocide if “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a
national, ethnical, racial or religious group”:
killing members of the group;
causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life
calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole
or in part;
imposing measures intended to prevent births within the
forcibly transferring children of the group to another group . 1 1
Introduction: This Land
In the 1990s, the term “ethnic cleansing” became a useful descrip­
tive term for genocide.
US history, as well as inherited Indigenous trauma, cannot be
understood without dealing with the genocide that the United
States committed against Indigenous peoples. From the colonial pe­
riod through the founding of the United States and continuing in
the twenty-first century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual
abuse, massacres, systematic military occupations, removals of In­
digenous peoples from their ancestral territories, and removals of
Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools. The absence
of even the slightest note of regret or tragedy in the annual celebra­
tion of the US independence betrays a deep disconnect in the con­
sciousness of US Americans.
Settler colonialism is inherently genocidal in terms of the geno­
cide convention. In the case of the British North American colo­
nies and the United States, not only extermination and removal
were practiced but also the disappearing of the prior existence of
Indigenous peoples-and this continues to be perpetuated in local
histories. Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) historian Jean O’Brien names this
practice of writing Indians out of existence “firsting and lasting.”
All over the continent, local histories, monuments, and signage nar­
rate the story of first settlement: the founder(s), the first school, first
dwelling, first everything, as if there had never been occupants who
thrived in those places before Euro-Americans. On the other hand,
the national narrative tells of “last” Indians or last tribes, such as
“the last of the Mohicans,” ” Ishi, the last Indian,” and End of the
Trail, as a famous sculpture by James Earle Fraser is titled.12
Documented policies of genocide on the part of US administra­
tions can be identified in at least four distinct periods: the Jackso­
nian era of forced removal; the California gold rush in Northern
California; the post-Civil War era of the so-called Indian wars in
the Great Plains; and the 1950s termination period, all of which are
discussed in the following chapters . Cases of genocide carried out
as policy may be found in historical documents as well as in the
oral histories of Indigenous communities. An example from 1 8 7 3
is typical, with General William T. Sherman writing, ” We must
act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
extermination, men, women and children . . . during an assault,
the soldiers can not pause to distinguish between male and female,
or even discriminate as to age.” 13 As Patrick Wolfe has noted, the
peculiarity of settler colonialism is that the goal is elimination of
Indigenous populations in order to make land available to settlers.
That project is not limited to government policy, but rather involves
all kinds of agencies, voluntary militias, and the settlers themselves
acting on their own . 14
In the wake of the US 1950s termination and relocation poli­
cies, a pan-Indigenous movement arose in tandem with the power­
ful African American civil rights movement and the broad-based
social justice and antiwar movements of the 19 60s. The Indigenous
rights movement succeeded in reversing the US termination pol­
icy. However, repression, armed attacks, and legislative attempts
to undo treaty rights began again in the late 1970s, giving rise to
the international Indigenous movement, which greatly broadened
the support for Indigenous sovereignty and territorial rights in the
United States.
The early twenty-first century has seen increased exploitation
of energy resources begetting new pressures on Indigenous lands.
Exploitation by the largest corporations, often in collusion with
politicians at local, state, and federal levels, and even within some
Indigenous governments, could spell a final demise for Indigenous
land bases and resources. Strengthening Indigenous sovereignty and
self-determination to prevent that result will take general public
outrage and demand, which in turn will require that the general
population, those descended from settlers and immigrants, know
their history and assume responsibility. Resistance to these power­
ful corporate forces continues to have profound implications for US
socioeconomic and political development and the future.
There are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous
communities and nations, comprising nearly three million people
in the United States. These are the descendants of the fifteen mil­
lion original inhabitants of the land, the majority of whom were
farmers who lived in towns. The US establishment of a system of
Introduction: This Land
Indian reservations stemmed from a long British colonial practice
in the Americas. In the era of US treaty-making from independence
to 1 8 7 1 , the concept of the reservation was one of the Indigenous
nation reserving a narrowed land base from a much larger one in ex­
change for US government protection from settlers and the provision
of social services. In the late nineteenth century, as Indigenous resis­
tance was weakened, the concept of the reservation changed to one
of land being carved out of the public domain of the United States
as a benevolent gesture, a “gift” to the Indigenous peoples. Rheto­
ric changed so that reservations were said to have been “given” or
“created” for Indians. With this shift, Indian reservations came to
be seen as enclaves within state’ boundaries. Despite the political
and economic reality, the impression to many was that Indigenous
people were taking a free ride on public domain.
Beyond the land bases within the limits of the 3 10 federally rec­
ognized reservations-among 554 Indigenous groups-Indigenous
land, water, and resource rights extend to all federally acknowl­
edged Indigenous communities within the borders of the United
States. This is the case whether “within the original or subsequently
acquired territory thereof, and whether within or without the limits
of a state,” and includes all allotments as well as rights-of-way run­
ning to and from them. 1 5 Not all the federally recognized Indigenous
nations have land bases beyond government buildings, and the lands
of some Native nations, including those of the Sioux in the Dakotas
and Minnesota and the Ojibwes in Minnesota, have been parceled
into multiple reservations, while some fifty Indigenous nations that
had been removed to Oklahoma were entirely allotted-divided by
the federal government into individual Native-owned parcels. Attor­
ney Walter R. Echo-Hawk writes:
In 1 8 8 1 , Indian landholdings in the United States had plum­
meted to 156 million acres. By 1 9 3 4 , only about 50 million
acres remained (an area the size of Idaho and Washington)
as a result of the General Allotment Act of 1 8 87. During
World War II, the government took 500,000 more acres for
military use. Over one hundred tribes, bands, and Rancherias
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
relinquished their lands under various acts of Congress during
the termination era of the 1950s. By 1 9 5 5 , the indigenous land
base had shrunk to just 2. 3 percent of its original size. 16
As a result of federal land sales, seizures, and allotments, most
reservations are severely fragmented. Each parcel of tribal, trust,
and privately held land is a separate enclave under multiple laws
and jurisdictions. The Dine (Navajo) Nation has the largest con­
temporary contiguous land base among Native nations: nearly six­
teen million acres, or nearly twenty-five thousand square miles, the
size of West Virginia. Each of twelve other reservations is larger
than Rhode Island, which comprises nearly eight hundred thou­
sand acres, or twelve hundred square miles, and each of nine other
reservations is larger than Delaware, which covers nearly a million
and a half acres, or two thousand square miles. Other reservations
have land bases of fewer than thirty-two thousand acres, or fifty
square miles. 17 A number of independent nation-states with seats in
the United Nations have less territory and smaller populations than
some Indigenous nations of North America.
Following World War II, the United States was at war with much of
the world, just as it was at war with the Indigenous peoples of North
America in the nineteenth century. This was total war, demand­
ing that the enemy surrender unconditionally or face annihilation.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the earlier wars against Indigenous
peoples, if not acknowledged and repudiated, ultimately would in­
clude the world. According to the origin narrative, the United States
was born of rebellion against oppression-against empire-and
thus is the product of the first anticolonial revolution for national
liberation. The narrative flows from that fallacy: the broadening
and deepening of democracy; the Civil War and the ensuing “second
revolution,” which ended slavery; the twentieth-century mission to
save Europe from itself-twice; and the ultimately triumphant fight
against the scourge of communism, with the United States inheriting
the difficult and burdensome task of keeping order in the world. It’s
a narrative of progress. The 19 60s social revolutions, ignited by the
African American liberation movement, complicated the origin nar-
Introduction: This Land
rative, but its structure and periodization have been left intact. After
the 19 60s, historians incorporated women, African Americans, and
immigrants as contributors to the commonweal. Indeed, the revised
narrative produced the “nation of immigrants” framework, which
obscures the US practice of colonization, merging settler colonial­
ism with immigration to metropolitan centers during and after the
industrial revolution. Native peoples, to the extent that they were in­
cluded at all, were renamed ” First Americans” and thus themselves
cast as distant immigrants.
The provincialism and national chauvinism of US history produc­
tion make it difficult for effective revisions to gain authority. Schol­
ars, both Indigenous and a few non-Indigenous, who attempt to
rectify the distortions, are labeled advocates, and their findings are
rejected for publication on that basis. Indigenous scholars look to
research and thinking that has emerged in the rest of the European­
colonized world. To understand the historical and current experi­
ences of Indigenous peoples in the United States, these thinkers and
writers draw upon and creatively apply the historical materialism of
Marxism, the liberation theology of Latin America, Frantz Fanon’s
psychosocial analyses of the effects of colonialism on the colonizer
and the colonized, and other approaches, including development
theory and postmodern theory. While not abandoning insights
gained from those sources, due to the “exceptional” nature of US
colonialism among nineteenth-century colonial powers, Indigenous
scholars and activists are engaged in exploring new approaches.
This book claims to be a history of the United States f� om an
Indigenous peoples’ perspective but there is no such thing as a col­
lective Indigenous peoples’ perspective, j ust as there is no mono­
lithic Asian or European or African peoples’ perspective. This is
not a history of the vast civilizations and communities that thrived
and survived between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada and between
the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific. Such histories have been writ­
ten, and are being written by historians of Dine, Lakota, Mohawk,
Tlingit, Muskogee, Anishinaabe, Lumbee, Inuit, Kiowa, Cherokee,
Hopi, and other Indigenous communities and nations that have
survived colonial genocide. This book attempts to tell the story of
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
the United States as a colonialist settler-state, one that, like colonial­
ist European states, crushed and subjugated the original civilizations
in the territories it now rules. Indigenous peoples, now in a colonial
relationship with the United States, inhabited and thrived for mil­
lennia before they were displaced to fragmented reservations and
economically decimated.
This is a history of the United States.
Carrying their flints and torches, Native Americans
were living in balance with Naturebut they had their thumbs on the scale.
-Charles C. Mann, I49I
Humanoids existed on Earth for around four million years as hunt­
ers and gatherers living in small communal groups that through
their movements found and populated every continent. Some two
hundred thousand years ago, human societies, having originated in
Sub-Saharan Africa, began migrating in all directions, and their de­
scendants eventually populated the globe. Around twelve thousand
years ago, some of these people began staying put and developed ag­
riculture-mainly women who domesticated wild plants and began
cultivating others.
As a birthplace of agriculture and the towns and cities that fol­
lowed, America is ancient, not a “new world .” Domestication of
plants took place around the globe in seven locales during approxi­
mately the same period, around 8500 BC. Three of the seven were in
the Americas, all based on corn: the Valley of Mexico and Central
America (Mesoamerica); the South- Central Andes in South Amer­
ica; and eastern North America. The other early agricultural cen­
ters were the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile River systems, Sub-Saharan
Africa, the Yellow River of northern China, and the Yangtze River
of southern China. During this time, many of the same human so­
cieties began domesticating animals. Only in the American conti­
nents was the parallel domestication of animals eschewed in favor
of game management, a kind of animal husbandry different from
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
that developed in Africa and Asia. In these seven areas, agriculture­
based “civilized” societies developed in symbiosis with hunting,
fishing, and gathering peoples on their peripheries, gradually envel­
oping many of the latter into the realms of their civilizations, except
for those in regions inhospitable to agriculture.
Indigenous American agriculture was based o n corn. Traces o f cul­
tivated corn have been identified in central Mexico dating back ten
thousand years . Twelve to fourteen centuries later, corn production
had spread throughout the temperate and tropical Americas from
the southern tip of South America to the subarctic of North Amer­
ica, and from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean on both continents.
The wild grain from which corn was cultivated has never been iden­
tified with certainty, but the Indigenous peoples for whom corn was
and is their sustenance believe it was a sacred gift from their gods.
Since there is no evidence of corn on any other continent prior to
its post- Columbus dispersal, its development is a unique invention
of the original American agriculturalists. Unlike most grains, corn
cannot grow wild and cannot exist without attentive human care.
Along with multiple varieties and colors of corn, Mesoamericans
cultivated squash and beans, which were extended throughout the
hemisphere, as were the many varieties and colors of potato cul­
tivated by Andean farmers beginning more than seven thousand
years ago. Corn, being a summer crop, can tolerate no more than
twenty to thirty days without water and even less time in high tem­
peratures. Many of the areas where corn was the staple were arid or
semiarid, so its cultivation required the design and construction of
complex irrigation systems-in place at least two thousand years be­
fore Europeans knew the Americas existed. The proliferation of ag­
riculture and cultigens could not have occurred without centuries of
cultural and commercial interchange among the peoples of North,
Central, and South America, whose traders carried seeds as well as
other goods and cultural practices.
The vast reach and capacity of Indigenous grain production im-
Follow the Corn
pressed colonialist Europeans . A traveler in French-occupied North
America related in 1 669 that six square miles of cornfields sur­
rounded each Iroquois village. The governor of New France, follow­
ing a military raid in the r 6 8 os, reported that he had destroyed more
than a million bushels (forty-two thousand tons) of corn belonging
to four Iroquois villages.1 Thanks to the nutritious triad of corn,
beans, and squash-which provide a complete protein-the Ameri­
cas were densely populated when the European monarchies began
sponsoring colonization projects there.
The total population of the hemisphere was about one hundred
million at the end of the fifteenth century, with about two-fifths in
North America, including Mexico. Central Mexico alone supported
some thirty million people . At the same time, the population of Eu­
rope as far east as the Ural Mountains was around fifty million.
Experts have observed that such population densities in precolo­
nial America were supportable because the peoples had created a
relatively disease-free paradise. 2 There certainly were diseases and
health problems, but the practice of herbal medicine and even sur­
gery and dentistry, and most importantly both hygienic and ritual
bathing, kept diseases at bay. Settler observers in all parts of the
Americas marveled at the frequent bathing even in winter in cold
climates. One commented that the Native people “go to the river
and plunge in and wash themselves before they dress daily.” Another
wrote: “Men, women, and children, from early infancy, are in the
habit of bathing.” Ritual sweat baths were common to all Native
North Americans, having originated in Mexico.3 Above all, the ma­
jority of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas had healthy, mostly
vegetarian diets based on the staple of corn and supplemented by
wild fish, fowl, and four-legged animals. People lived long and well
with abundant ceremonial and recreational periods.
As on the two other major continental landmasses-Eurasia and
Africa-civilization in the Americas emerged from certain popu­
lation centers, with periods of vigorous growth and integration
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
interspersed with periods of decline and disintegration. At least a
dozen such centers were functioning in the Americas when Euro­
peans intervened. Although this is a history of the part of North
America that is today the United States, it is important to follow
the corn to its origins and briefly consider the peoples’ history of the
Valley of Mexico and Central America, often called Mesoamerica.
Influences from the south powerfully shaped the Indigenous peoples
to the north (in what is now the United States) and Mexicans con­
tinue to migrate as they have for millennia but now across the arbi­
trary border that was established in the US war against Mexico in
1 846-4 8 .
The first great cultivators of corn were the Mayans, initially cen­
tered in present-day northern Guatemala and the Mexican state of
Tabasco. Extending to the Yucatan peninsula, the Mayans of the
tenth century built city-states- Chichen-Itza, Mayapan, Uxmal,
and many others-as far south as Belize and Honduras. Mayan
villages, farms, and cities extended from tropical forests to alpine
areas to coastal and interior plains. During the five-century apex
of Mayan civilization, a combined priesthood and nobility gov­
erned. There was also a distinct commercial class, and the cities
were densely populated, not simply bureaucratic or religious centers.
Ordinary Mayan villages in the far-flung region retained fundamen­
tal features of clan structures and communal social relations. They
worked the nobles’ fields, paid rent for use of land, and contributed
labor and taxes to the building of roads, temples, nobles’ houses,
and other structures. It is not clear whether these relations were
exploitative or cooperatively developed. However, the nobility drew
servants from groups such as war prisoners, accused criminals, debt­
ors, and even orphans. Although servile status was not hereditary,
this was forced labor. Increasingly burdensome exploitation of labor
and higher taxes and tribute produced dissension and uprisings, re­
sulting in the collapse of the Mayan state, from which decentralized
polities emerged.
Mayan culture astonishes all who study it, and it is often com­
pared to Greek (Athenian) culture. At its core was the cultivation
of corn; religion was constructed around this vital food. The Ma­
yan people developed art, architecture, sculpture, and painting, em-
Follow the Corn
ploying a variety o f materials, including gold and silver, which they
mined and used for jewelry and sculpture, not for use as currency.
Surrounded by rubber trees, they invented the rubber ball and court
ball games similar to modern soccer. Their achievements in math­
ematics and astronomy are the most impressive. By 3 6 BC they had
developed the concept of zero. They worked with numbers in the
hundreds of millions and used extensive dating systems, making pos­
sible both their observations of the cosmos and their unique calendar
that marked the passage of time into the future. Modern astrono­
mers have marveled at the accuracy of Mayan charts of the move­
ments of the moon and planets, which were used to predict eclipses
and other events. Mayan culture and science, as well as governmen­
tal and economic practices, were influential throughout the region.
During the same period of Mayan devel opment, the Olmec civi­
lization reigned in the Valley of Mexico and built the grand me­
tropolis of Teotihuacan. Beginning in AD 7 5 0 , Toltec civilization
dominated the region for four centuries, absorbing the Olmecs. Co­
lossal buildings, sculptures, and markets made up the Toltec cit­
ies, which housed extensive libraries and universities. They created
multiple cities, the largest being Tula. The Toltecs’ written language
was based on the Mayan form, as was the calendar they used in
scientific research, particularly in astronomy and medicine. Another
nation in the Valley of Mexico, the Culhua, built the city-state of
Culhuacan on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco, as well as the
city-state of Texcoco on the eastern shore of the lake. In the late
fourteenth century, the Tepanec people rose in an expansionist drive
and subjugated Culhuacan, Texcoco, and all their subject peoples
in the Valley of Mexico. They proceeded to conquer Tenochtitlan,
which was located on an island in the middle of the immense Lake
Texcoco and had been built around 1 3 25 by the Nahuatl-speaking
Aztecs who had migrated from northern Mexico (today’s Utah). The
Aztecs had entered the valley in the twelfth century and been in­
volved in toppling the Toltecs.4
In 1 4 26, the Aztecs of Tenochtitlan formed an alliance with the
Texcoco and Tlacopan peoples and overthrew Tepanec rule. The
allies proceeded to wage war against neighboring peoples and even­
tually succeeded in gaining control over the Valley of Mexico. The
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
Aztecs emerged as dominant in the Triple Alliance and moved to
bring all the peoples of Mexico under their tributary authority.
These events paralleled ones in Europe and Asia during the same
period, when Rome and other city-states were demolished and occu­
pied by invading Germanic peoples, while the Mongols of the Eur­
asian steppe overran much of Russia and China. As in Europe and
Asia, the invading peoples assimilated and reproduced civilization.
The economic basis for the powerful Aztec state was hydraulic
agriculture, with corn as the central crop. Beans, pumpkins, toma­
toes, cocoa, and many other food crops flourished and supported a
dense population, much of it concentrated in large urban centers.
The Aztecs also grew tobacco and cotton, the latter providing the
fiber for all cloth and clothing. Weaving and metalwork flourished,
providing useful commodities as well as works of art. Building tech­
niques enabled construction of enormous stone dams and canals,
as well as fortress-like castles made of brick or stone. There were
elaborate markets in each city and a far-flung trade network that
used routes established by the Toltecs.
Aztec merchants acquired turquoise from Pueblos who mined
it in what is now the US Southwest to sell in central Mexico where
it had become the most valued of all material possessions and
was used as a means of exchange or a form of money. 5 Sixty-five
thousand turquoise artifacts in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, are
evidence of the importance of turquoise as a major precolonial com­
modity. Other items were also valuable marketable commodities in
the area, salt being close to turquoise in value. Ceramic trade goods
involved interconnected markets from Mexico City to Mesa Verde,
Colorado. Shells from the Gulf of California, tropical bird feath­
ers from the Gulf Coast area of Mexico, obsidian from Durango,
Mexico, and flint from Texas were all found in the ruins of Casa
Grande (Arizona), the commercial center of the northern frontier.
Turquoise functioning as money was traded to acquire macaw and
parrot feathers from tropical areas for religious rituals, seashells
from coastal peoples, and hides and meat from the northern plains.
The stone has been found in precolonial sites in Texas, Kansas, and
Nebraska, where the Wichitas served as intermediaries, carrying
turquoise and other goods farther east and north. Crees in the Lake
Follow the Corn
Superior region and communities in what is today Ontario, Canada,
and in today’s Wisconsin acquired turquoise through trade. 6
Traders from Mexico were also transmitters of culture and fea­
tures such as the Sun Dance religion in the Great Plains, and the cul­
tivation of corn by the Algonquin, Cherokee, and Muskogee (Creek)
peoples of the eastern half of North America were transmitted from
Central America. The oral and written histories of the Aztecs, Cher­
okees, and Choctaws record these relations. Cherokee oral history
tells of their ancestors’ migrations from the south and through Mex­
ico, as does Muskogee history.7
Although Aztecs were apparently flourishing culturally and eco­
nomically, as well as being militarily and politically strong, their
dominance was declining on the eve of Spanish intrusion. Being
pressed for tribute through violent attacks, peasants rebelled and
there were uprisings all over Mexico. Montezuma II, who came to
power in 1 5 0 3 , might have succeeded in his attempt to reform the
regime, but the Spanish overthrew him before he had the opportu­
nity. The Mexican state was crushed and its cities leveled in Cortes’s
three-year genocidal war. Cortes’s recruitment of resistant commu­
nities all over Mexico as allies aided in toppling the central regime.
Cortes and his two hundred European mercenaries could never have
overthrown the Mexican state without the Indigenous insurgency he
co-opted. The resistant peoples who allied with Cortes to overthrow
the oppressive Aztec regime could not yet have known the goals of
the gold-obsessed Spanish colonizers or the European institutions
that backed them.
What i s n ow the US Southwest once formed, with today’s Mexican
states of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua, the northern periphery of
the Aztec regime in the Valley of Mexico. Mostly an alpine, arid, and
semiarid region cut with rivers, it is a fragile land base with rainfall
a scarce commodity and drought endemic. Yet, in the Sonora Desert
of present-day southern Arizona, communities were practicing agri­
culture by 2100 BC and began digging irrigation canals as early as
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
1 25 0 BC. The earliest evidence of corn in the area dates from 2000
BC, introduced by trade and migration between north and south.
Farther north, people began cultivating corn, beans, squash, and
cotton around 1 5 0 0 BC. Their descendants, the Akimel O’odham
people (Pimas), call their ancestors the Huhugam (meaning “those
who have gone ” ) , which English speakers have rendered as “Ho­
hokam.” The Hohokam people left behind ball courts similar to
those of the Mayans, multistory buildings, and agricultural fields.
Their most striking imprint on the land is one of the most extensive
networks of irrigation canals in the world at that time. From AD
9 0 0 to 1 4 5 0 , the Hohokams built a canal system of more than eight
hundred miles of trunk lines and hundreds more miles of branches
serving local sites. The longest known canal extended twenty miles.
The largest were seventy-five to eighty-five feet across and twenty
feet deep, and many were leak-proof, lined with clay. One canal
system carried enough water to irrigate an estimated ten thousand
acres. 8 Hohokam farmers grew surplus crops for export and their
community became a crossroads in a trade network reaching from
Mexico to Utah and from the Pacific Coast to New Mexico and
irito the Great Plains. By the fourteenth c entury, Hohokams had
dispersed, living in smaller communities.
The famed Anasazi people of Chaco Canyon on the Colorado
Plateau-in the present-day Four Corners region of Arizona, New
Mexico, Colorado, and Utah-thrived from AD 850 to 1 25 0 . An­
cestors of the Pueblos of New Mexico, the Anasazi constructed
more than four hundred miles of roads radiating out from Chaco.
Averaging thirty feet wide, these roads followed straight courses,
even through difficult terrain such as hills and rock formations.
The highways connected some seventy-five communities. Around
the thirteenth century, the Anasazi people abandoned the Chaco
area and migrated, building nearly a hundred smaller agricultural
city-states along the northern Rio Grande valley and its tributaries.
Northernmost Taos Pueblo was an important trade center, handling
buffalo products from the plains, tropical bird products, copper
and shells from Mexico, and turquoise from New Mexican mines.
Pueblo trade extended as far west as the Pacific Ocean, as far east as
the Great Plains, and as far south as Central America.
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Other major peoples in the region, the Navaj os ( Dine) and
Apaches, are of Athabascan heritage, having migrated to the region
from the subarctic several centuries before Columbus. The majority
of the Dine people did not migrate and remain in the original home­
land in Alaska and northwestern Canada. Originally a hunting and
trading people, they interacted and intermarried with the Pueblos
and became involved in conflicts between villages engendered by
disputes over water usage, with Dine and Apache groups allied with
one or another of the riverine city-states.9
The island peoples of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Ba­
sin were an integral part of the cultural, religious, and economic
exchanges with the peoples from today’s Guyana, Venezuela, Co­
lombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala,
Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Wa­
ter, far from presenting a barrier to trade and cultural relations,
served as a means of connecting the region’s peoples. Precolonial
Caribbean cultures and cultural connections have been very little
studied, since many of these peoples, the first victims of Columbus’s
colonizing missions, were annihilated, enslaved and deported, or
later assimilated enslaved African populations with the advent of
the Atlantic slave trade. The best known are the Caribs, Arawaks,
Tainos, and the Chibchan-speaking peoples. Throughout the Ca­
ribbean islands and rim are also descendants of Maroons-mixed
Indigenous and African communities-who successfully liberated
themselves from slavery, such as the Garifuna people ( ” Black Car­
ibs ” ) along the coast of the western Caribbean.1 0
From the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and south to
the Gulf of Mexico lay one of the most fertile agricultural belts in
the world, crisscrossed with great rivers. Naturally watered, teem­
ing with plant and animal life, temperate in climate, the region was
home to multiple agricultural nations. In the twelfth century, the
Mississippi Valley region was marked by one enormous city-state,
Cahokia, and several large ones built of earthen, stepped pyramids,
much like those in Mexico. Cahokia supported a population of tens
of thousands, larger than that of London during the same period.
Other architectural monuments were sculpted in the shape of gi­
gantic birds, lizards, bears, alligators, and even a r , 3 3 0 -foot-long
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
serpent. These feats of monumental construction testify to the levels
of civic and social organization. Called “mound builders” by Euro­
pean settlers, the people of this civilization had dispersed before the
European invasion, but their influence had spread throughout the
eastern half of the North American continent through cultural influ­
ence and trade. 1 1 What European colonizers found in the southeast­
ern region of the continent were nations of villages with economies
based on agriculture and corn the mainstay. This was the territory
of the nations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw and the
Muskogee Creek and Seminole, along with the Natchez Nation in
the western part, the Mississippi Valley region.
To the north, a remarkable federal state structure, the Haude­
nosaunee confederacy-often referred to as the Six Nations of the
Iroquois Confederacy-was made up of the Seneca, Cayuga, On­
ondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk Nations and, from early in the nine­
teenth century, the Tuscaroras. This system incorporated six widely
dispersed and unique nations of thousands of agricultural villages
and hunting grounds from the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence
River to the Atlantic, and as far south as the Carolinas and inland
to Pennsylvania. The Haudenosaunee peoples avoided centralized
power by means of a clan-village system of democracy based on
collective stewardship of the land. Corn, the staple crop, was stored
in granaries and distributed equitably in this matrilineal society by
the clan mothers, the oldest women from every extended family.
Many other nations flourished in the Great Lakes region where now
the US- Canada border cuts through their realms. Among them, the
Anishinaabe Nation (called by others Ojibwe and Chippewa) was
the largest.
The peoples of the prairies of central North America spanned an
expanse of space from West Texas to the subarctic between the Mis­
sissippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Several centers of develop­
ment in that vast region of farming and bison-dependent peoples
may be identified: in the prairies of Canada, the Crees; in the Da­
kotas, the Lakota and Dakota Sioux; and to their west and south,
the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. Farther south were the Ponca,
Pawnee, Osage, Kiowa, and many other nations, with buffalo num­
bering sixty million. Territorial disputes inevitably occurred, and
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diplomatic skills as well as trade were highly developed for conflict
In the Pacific Northwest, from present-day Alaska to San Fran­
cisco, and along the vast inland waterways to the mountain barriers,
great seafaring and fishing peoples flourished, linked by culture,
common ceremonies, and extensive trade. These were wealthy peo­
ples living in a comparative paradise of natural resources, including
the sacred salmon. They invented the potlatch, the ceremonial dis­
tribution or destruction of accumulated goods, creating a culture of
reciprocity. They crafted gigantic wooden totems, masks, and lodges
carved from giant sequoias and redwoods. Among these communi­
ties speaking many languages were the Tlingit people in Alaska and
the salmon-fishing Salish, Makah, Hoopa, Pomo, Karok, and Yurok
The territory between the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains
in the West, now called the Great Basin, was a harsh environment
that supported small populations before European colonization, as
it does today. Yet the Shoshone, Bannock, Paiute, and Ute peoples
there managed the environment and built permanent villages.
Each Indigenous nation or city-state or town comprised a n indepen­
dent, self-governing people that held supreme authority over internal
affairs and dealt with other peoples on equal footing. Among the
factors that integrated each nation, in addition to language, were
shared belief systems and rituals and clans of extended families that
spanned more than one town. The system of decision making was
based on consensus, not majority rule. This form of decision making
later baffled colonial agents who could not find Indigenous officials
to bribe or manipulate. In terms of international diplomacy, each of
the Indigenous peoples of western North America was a sovereign
nation. First the Spanish, French, and British colonizers, and then
the US colonizers, made treaties with these Indigenous governments.
Indigenous governance varied widely in form. 12 East of the Mis­
sissippi River, towns and federations of towns were governed by
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
family lineages. The male elder of the most powerful clan was the
executive. His accession to that position and all his decisions were
subject to the approval of a council of elders of the clans that were
represented in the town. In this manner, the town had sovereign
authority over its internal affairs. In each sovereign town burned a
sacred fire symbolizing its relationship with the spirit beings. A town
could join other towns under the leadership of a single leader. Eng­
lish colonists termed such groupings of towns “confederacies” or
“federations.” The Haudenosaunee people today retain a fully func­
tioning government of this type. It was the Haudenosaunee constitu­
tion, called the Great Law of Peace, that inspired essential elements
of the US Constitution. 13 Oren Lyons, who holds the title of Faith­
keeper of the Turtle Clan and is a member of the Onondaga Council
of Chiefs, explains the essence of that constitution: “The first princi­
ple is peace. The second principle, equity, justice for the people . And
third, the power of the good minds, of the collective powers to be of
one mind: unity. And health. All of these were involved in the basic
principles. And the process of discussion, putting aside warfare as a
method of reaching decisions, and now using intellect.” 14
The Muskogees ( Creeks), Seminoles, and other peoples in the
Southeast had three branches of government: a civil administra­
tion, a military, and a branch that dealt with the sacred. The lead­
ers of each branch were drawn from the elite, and other officials
were drawn from prominent clans. Over the centuries preceding
European colonialism, ancient traditions of diplomacy had devel­
oped among the Indigenous nations. Societies in the eastern part of
the continent had an elaborate ceremonial structure for diplomatic
meetings among representatives of disparate governments . In the
federations of sovereign towns, the leading town’s fire represented
the entire group, and each member town sent a representative or two
to the federation’s council. Thus everyone in the federation was rep­
resented in the government’s decision making. Agreements reached
in such meetings were considered sacred pledges that the representa­
tives made not only to one another but also to the powerful spirit
looking on. The nations tended to hold firm to such treaties out of
respect for the sacred power that was party to the agreements. Rela­
tions with the spirit world were thus a major factor in government. 15
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The roles of women varied among the societies of eastern North
America. Among the Muskogees and other southern nations, women
hardly participated in governmental affairs. Haudenosaunee and
Cherokee women, on the other hand, held more political authority.
Among the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and
Tuscaroras, certain female lineages controlled the choice of male
representatives for their clans in their governing councils. Men were
the representatives, but the women who chose them had the right to
speak in the council, and when the chosen representative was too
young or inexperienced to be effective , one of the women might
participate in council on his behalf. Haudenosaunee clan mothers
held the power to recall unsatisfactory representatives. Charles C .
Mann, author o f I49 I : New Revelations of the Americas before
Columbus, calls it “a feminist dream.” 1 6
According to the value system that drove consensus building and
decision making in these societies, the community’s interest over­
rode individual interests. After every member of a council had had
his or her say, any member who still considered a decision incorrect
might nevertheless agree to abide by it for the sake of the commu­
nity’s cohesion. In the rare cases in which consensus could not be
reached, the segment of the community represented by dissenters
might withdraw from the community and move away to found a
new community. This was similar to the practice of the nearly one
hundred autonomous towns of northern New Mexico.
By the time of European invasions, Indigenous peoples had occupied
and shaped every part of the Americas, established extensive trade
networks and roads, and were sustaining their populations by adapt­
ing to specific natural environments, but they also adapted nature to
suit human ends. Mann relates how Indigenous peoples used fire to
shape and tame the precolonial North American landscape. In the
Northeast, Indigenous farmers always carried flints . One English
observer in 1 63 7 noted that they used the flints “to set fire of the
country in all places where they come.”17 They also used torches for
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
night hunting and rings of flame to encircle animals to kill. Rather
than domesticating animals for hides and meat, Indigenous com­
munities created havens to attract elk, deer, bear, and other game.
They burned the undergrowth in forests so that the young grasses
and other ground cover that sprouted the following spring would
entice greater numbers of herbivores and the predators that fed on
them, which would sustain the people who ate them both. Mann
describes these forests in r49 r : ” Rather than the thick, unbroken,
monumental snarl of trees imagined by Thoreau, the great eastern
forest was an ecological kaleidoscope of garden plots, blackberry
rambles , pine barrens , and spacious groves of chestnut, hickory, and
oak.” Inland a few miles from the shore of present-day Rhode Is­
land, an early European explorer marveled at the trees that were
spaced so that the forest “could be penetrated even by a large army.”
English mercenary John Smith wrote that he had ridden a galloping
horse through the Virginia forest. In Ohio, the first English squat­
ters on Indigenous lands in the mid-eighteenth century encountered
forested areas that resembled English parks, as they could drive car­
riages through the trees.
Bison herds roamed the East from New York to Georgia (it’s no
accident that a settler city in western New York was named Buffalo).
The American bison was indigenous to the northern and southern
plains of North America, not the East, yet Native peoples imported
them east along a path of fire, as they transformed forest into fal­
lows for the bison to survive upon far from their original habitat.
Historian William Cronon has written that when the Haudeno­
saunee hunted buffalo, they were “harvesting a foodstuff which they
had consciously been instrumental in creating.” As for the ” Great
American Desert,” as Anglo -Americans called the Great Plains, the
occupants transformed that too into game farms . Using fire, they
extended the giant grasslands and maintained them. When Lewis
and Clark began their trek up the Missouri River in 1 8 04 , ethnolo­
gist Dale Lott has observed, they beheld “not a wilderness but a
vast pasture managed by and for Native Americans.” Native Ameri­
cans created the world’s largest gardens and grazing lands-and
Native peoples left an indelible imprint on the land with systems
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of roads that tied nations and communities together across the entire
landmass of the Americas. Scholar David Wade Chambers writes:
The first thing to note about early Native American trails and
roads is that they were not just paths in the woods following
along animal tracks used mainly for hunting. Neither can they
be characterized simply as the routes that nomadic peoples
followed during seasonal migrations. Rather they constituted
an extensive system of roadways that spanned the Americas,
making possible short, medium and long distance travel . That
is to say, the Pre – C olumbian Americas were laced together
with a complex system of roads and paths which became the
roadways adopted by the early settlers and indeed were ulti­
mately transformed into major highways . 1 9
Roads were developed along rivers, a n d many Indigenous roads
in North America tracked the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Colum­
bia, and Colorado Rivers, the Rio Grande, and other major streams.
Roads also followed seacoasts. A major road ran along the Pacific
coast from northern Alaska (where travelers could continue by boat
to Siberia) south to an urban area in western Mexico. A branch of
that road ran through the Sonora Desert and up onto the Colorado
Plateau, serving ancient towns and later communities such as those
of the Hopis and Pueblos on the northern Rio Grande.
From the Pueblo communities, roads eastward carried travelers
onto the semiarid plains along tributaries of the Pecos River and up
to the communities in what is now eastern New Mexico, the Texas
Panhandle, and West Texas. There were also roads from the north­
ern Rio Grande to the southern plains of western Oklahoma by
way of the Canadian and Cimarron Rivers. The roads along those
rivers and their tributaries led to a system of roads that followed riv­
ers from the Southeast. They also connected with ones that turned
southwestward toward the Valley of Mexico.
The eastern roads connected Muskogee (Creek) towns in present­
day Georgia and Alabama. From the’ Muskogee towns, a major
route led north through Cherokee lands, the Cumberland Gap, and
the Shenandoah Valley region to the confluence of the Ohio and
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Scioto Rivers . From that northeastern part of the continent, a trav­
eler could reach the West Coast by following roads along the Ohio
River to the Mississippi, up the Mississippi to the mouth of the Mis­
souri, and along the Missouri westward to its headwaters . From
there, a road crossed the Rocky Mountains through South Pass in
present- day Wyoming and led to the Columbia River. The Columbia
River road led to the large population center at the river’s mouth on
the Pacific Ocean and connected with the Pacific Coast road .
North America i n 1 49 2 was not a virgin wilderness but a network
of Indigenous nations, peoples of the corn. The link between peoples
of the North and the South can be seen in the diffusion of corn
from Mesoamerica. Both Muskogees and Cherokees, whose original
homelands in North America are located in the Southeast, trace
their lineage to migration from or through Mexico. Cherokee histo ­
rian Emmet Starr wrote:
The Cherokees most probably preceded by several hundred
years the Muskogees in their exodus from Mexico and swung
in a wider circle, crossing the Mississippi River many miles
north of the mouth of the Missouri River as indicated by the
mounds . . . . The Muskogees were probably driven out of
Mexico by the Aztecs, Toltecs or some other of the northwest­
ern tribal invasions of the ninth or preceding centuries. This is
evidenced by the customs and devices that were long retained
by the Creeks. 2 0
Another Cherokee writer, Robert Conley, tells about the oral
tradition that claims Cherokee origins in South America and sub­
sequent migration through Mexico. Later, with US military inva­
sions and relocations of the Muskogee and Cherokee peoples, many
groups split off and sought refuge in Mexico, as did others under
pressure, such as the Kickapoos. 2 1
Although practiced traditionally throughout the Indigenous ag-
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ricultural areas of North America, the Green Corn Dance remains
strongest among the Muskogee people. The elements of the ritual
dance are similar to those of the Valley of Mexico. Although the
dance takes various forms among different communities, the core of
it is the same, a commemoration of the gift of corn by an ancestral
corn woman. The peoples of the corn retain great affinities under
the crust of colonialism.
This brief overview of precolonial North America suggests the
magnitude of what was lost to all humanity and counteracts the
settler-colonial myth of the wandering Neolithic hunter. These were
civilizations based on advanced agriculture and featuring polities .
I t is essential t o understand the migrations a n d Indigenous peoples’
relationships prior to invasion, North and South, and how colonial­
ism cut them off, but, as we will see, the relationships are being
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation,
enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal
population, the beginning of the conquest and looting
of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren
for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the
rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic
proceedings are the chief moments of prior accumulation.
-Karl Marx, from “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist,” Capital
The late anthropologist Edward H . Spicer wrote that the initial Eu­
ropeans who participated in colonization of the Americas were heirs
to rich and ancient cultures, social relations, and customs in their
lands of origin, whether Spain, France, Holland, or England. In the
passage to the Americas and encountering the Indigenous inhabi­
tants, they largely abandoned the webs of European social relations.
What each actually participated in was a culture of conquest-vio­
lence, expropriation, destruction, and dehumanization. 1
Spicer’s observation is true, but the culture of conquest didn’t
start with Europeans crossing the Atlantic. European institutions
and the worldview of conquest and colonialism had formed several
centuries before that. From the eleventh through the thirteenth cen­
turies, Europeans conducted the Crusades to conquer North Africa
and the Middle East, leading to unprecedented wealth in the hands
of a few. This profit-based religion was the deadly element that Eu­
ropean merchants and settlers brought to the Americas. In addi-
Culture of Conquest
tion to seeking personal wealth, colonizers expressed a Christian
zeal that j ustified colonialism. Along with that came the militaristic
tradition that had also developed in western Europe during the Cru­
sades (literally, “carrying of the cross ” ) . Although the popes, begin­
ning with Urban II, called for most of the ventures, the crusading
armies were mercenary outfits that promised the soldiers the right to
sack and loot Muslim towns and cities, feats that would gain them
wealth and prestige back home. Toward the end of the thirteenth
century, · the papacy began directing such mercenaries to crush do­
mestic “enemies” in their midst, as well-pagans and commoners
in general, especially women (as ostensible witches) and heretics . In
this way, knights and noblemen could seize land and force the com­
moners living on it into servitude . Historian Peter Linebaugh notes
that whereas the anti-Muslim Crusades were attempts to control
the lucrative Muslim trade routes to the Far East, the domestic cru­
sades against heretics and commoners were carried out to terrorize
poor people and at the same time to enlist them in the lucrative and
adventurous yet holy venture: ” Crusading was thus a murderous
device to resolve a contradiction by bringing baron and commoner
together in the cauldron of religious war.” 2
The first population forcibly organized under the profit motive­
whose labor was exploited well before overseas exploitation was
possible-was the European peasantry. Once forced off their land,
they had nothing to eat and nothing to sell but their labor. In addi­
tion, entire nations, such as Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Bohemia, the
Basque Country, and Catalonia, were colonized and forced under
the rule of various monarchies. The Moorish Nation and the Sep­
hardic Jewish minority were conquered and physically deported by
the Castilian/Aragon monarchy from the Iberian Peninsula-a long­
term project culminating in group expulsions beginning in 1492, the
year Columbus sailed to America.
The institutions of colonialism and methods for relocation, de­
portation, and expropriation of land had already been practiced,
if not perfected, by the end of the fifteenth century. 3 The rise of the
modern state in western Europe was based on the accumulation of
wealth by means of exploiting human labor and displacing millions
of subsistence producers from their lands. The armies that did this
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
work benefited from technological innovations that allowed the de­
velopment of more effective weapons of death and destruction. When
these states expanded overseas to obtain even more resources, land,
and labor, they were not starting anew. The peoples of the Caribbean,
Central America, Mexico, and the Andes were the first overseas vic­
tims . West and South Africa, North America, and the rest of South
America followed. Then came all of Africa, the Pacific, and Asia .
The sea voyages of European explorers and merchants in the late
fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries were not the first of their kind.
These voyagers borrowed the techniques for long- distance sea travel
from the Arab world. Before the Arabs ventured into the Indian
Ocean, Inuits ( Eskimos) plied the Arctic Circle in their kayaks for
centuries and made contacts with many peoples, as did Norse, South
Asian, Chinese, Japanese, Peruvian, and Melanesian and Polynesian
fishing peoples of the Pacific . Egyptian and Greek knowledge of the
seas most likely extended beyond the Mediterranean, into the At­
lantic and Indian Oceans. Western European seagoing merchants
and the monarchies that backed them would differ only in that they
had developed the bases for colonial domination and exploitation
of labor in those colonies that led to the capture and enslavement of
millions of Africans to transport to their American colonies .
Along with the cargo o f European ships, especially o f the later Brit­
ish colonizing ventures, came the emerging concept of land as pri­
vate property. Esther Kingston-Mann, a specialist in Russian land
tenure history, has reconstructed the elevation of land as private
property to “sacred status” in sixteenth-century England. 4 The En­
glish used the term “enclosure ” to denote the privatization of the
commons. During this time, peasants, who constituted a large ma­
jority of the population, were evicted from their ancient common
lands. For centuries the commons had been their pasture for milk
cows and for running sheep and their source for water, wood for
fuel and construction, and edible and medicinal wild plants . With­
out these resources they could not have survived as farmers , and
Culture of Conquest
they did not survive as farmers after they lost access to the com­
mons. Not only were the commons privatized during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, they were also transformed into grazing
lands for commercial sheep production, wool being the main do­
mestic and export commodity, creating wealth for a few and im­
poverishment for the many. Denied access to the former commons,
rural subsistence farmers and even their children had no choice but
to work in the new woolen textile factories under miserable condi­
tions-that is, when they could find such work for unemployment
was high. Employed or not, this displaced population was available
to serve as settlers in the North American British colonies, many of
them as indentured servants, with the promise of land. After serving
their terms of indenture, they were free to squat on Indigenous land
and become farmers again. In this way, surplus labor created not
only low labor costs and great profits for the woolens manufacturers
but also a supply of settlers for the colonies, which was an “escape
valve ” in the home country, where impoverishment could lead to
uprisings of the exploited. The sacred status of property in the forms
of land taken from Indigenous farmers and of Africans as chattel
was seeded into the drive for Anglo-American independence from
Britain and the founding of the United States.
Privatization of land was accompanied by an ideological drive
to paint the commoners who resisted as violent, stupid, and lazy.
The English Parliament, under the guise of fighting backwardness,
criminalized former rights to the commons. Accompanying and fa­
cilitating the privatization of the commons was the suppression of
women, as feminist theorist Silvia Federici has argued, by conj uring
witchcraft. Those accused of witchcraft were poor peasant women,
often widows, while the accusers tended to be wealthier, either their
landlords or employers, individuals who controlled local institutions
or had ties to the national government. Neighbors were encouraged
to accuse one another. 5 Witchcraft was considered mainly a female
crime, especially at the peak of the witch hunts between 1 5 5 0 and
1 650, when more than 80 percent of those who were charged with
witchcraft, tried, convicted, and executed were women. In England,
those accused of witchcraft were mostly elderly women, often beg­
gars, sometimes the wives of living laborers but usually widows .
An Indigenous Peoples ‘ History of the United States
Actions and local occurrences said to indicate witchcraft included
nonpayment of rent, demand for public assistance, giving the “evil­
eye,” local die-offs of horses or other stock, and mysterious deaths
of children. Also among the telltale actions were practices related to
midwifery and any kind of contraception . The service that women
provided among the poor as healers was one of a number of vestiges
from pre- Christian, matrilineal institutions that once predominated
in Europe. It is no surprise that those who had held on to and per­
petuated these communal practices were those most resistant to the
enclosure of the commons, the economic base of the peasantry, as
well as women’s autonomy. 6
The traumatized souls thrown off the land, as well as their de­
scendants, became the land-hungry settlers enticed to cross a vast
ocean with the promise of land and attaining the status of gentry.
English settlers brought witch hunting with them to Jamestown,
Virginia, and to Salem, Massachusetts. In language reminiscent of
that used to condemn witches, they quickly identified the Indigenous
populations as inherently children of Satan and ” servants of the
devil ” who deserved to be killed. 7 Later the Salem authorities would
justify witch trials by claiming that the English settlers were inhabit­
ing land controlled by the devil.
Also part o f the Christian colonizers’ outlook was a belief i n white
supremacy. As an 1 8 7 8 US Protestant evangelical hymn suggests­
“Are your garments spotless? I Are they white as snow? I Are they
washed in the blood of the lamb? “-whiteness as an ideology in­
volves much more than skin color, although skin color has been
and continues to be a key component of racism in the United States.
White supremacy can be traced to the colonizing ventures of the
Christian Crusades in Muslim-controlled territories and to the Prot­
estant colonization of Ireland. As dress rehearsals for the coloniza­
tion of the Americas, these proj ects form the two strands that merge
in the geopolitical and sociocultural makeup of US society.
The Crusades in the Iberian Peninsula ( Spain and Portugal today)
Culture of Conquest
and expulsion of Jews and Muslims were part of a process that cre­
ated the core ideology for modern colonialism-white supremacy­
and its justification for genocide . The Crusades gave birth to the
papal law of
limpieza de sangre -cleanliness
of blood-for which
the Inquisition was established by the Church to investigate and
determine. Before this time the concept of biological race based on
” blood” is not known to have existed as law or taboo in Christian
Europe or anywhere else in the world. 8 As scapegoating and sus­
picion of Conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity) and
Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity) intensified
over several centuries in Christian-controlled Spain, the doctrine
limpieza de sangre was
popularized. It had the effect of granting
psychological and increasingly legal privileges to ” Old Christians,”
both rich and poor, thus obscuring the class differences between the
landed aristocracy and land-poor peasants and shepherds . Whatever
their economic station, the ” Old Christian” Spanish were enabled
to identify with the nobility. As one Spanish historian puts it, “The
common people looked upwards, wishing and hoping to climb, and
let themselves be seduced by chivalric ideals: honour, dignity, glory,
and the noble life.”9 Lope de Vega, a sixteenth-century contempo­
rary of Cervantes, wrote : ” Soy un hombre , I aunque de villana casta,
I limpio de sangre y jamas I de hebrea o mora manchada” ( I am a
man, although of lowly status, yet clean of blood and with no mix­
ture of Jewish or Moorish blood).
This cross-class mind-set can be found as well in the stance of
descendants of the old settlers of British colonization in North
America. This then is the first instance of class leveling based on
imagined racial sameness-the origin of white supremacy, the es­
sential ideology of colonial projects in America and Africa. As
Elie Wiesel famously observed, the road to Auschwitz was paved
in the earliest days of Christendom . Historian David Stannard, in
American Holocaust, adds the caveat that the same road led straight
through the heart of America . 1 0 The ideology of white supremacy
was paramount in neutralizing the class antagonisms of the landless
against the landed and distributing confiscated lands and properties
of Moors and Jews in Iberia, of the Irish in Ulster, and of Native
American and African peoples.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Great Britain, emerging as an overseas colonial power a century
after Spain did, absorbed aspects of the Sp…
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