AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE U.S. by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (original book or the young adult version)

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) chose the book An Indigenous Peoples' History of the U.S. by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for this year’s discussion across the country (a common read). Thus, we have scheduled a common read discussion via Zoom on September 16, 2020. Although it will focus on Native people rather than on African Americans, the discussion is obviously related to the newly energized concern with racial justice in the U.S. and will be a wonderful way to begin to join the larger on-going discussion on race, systemic racism, anti-racism, and equality. Topics to be addressed include: 1) The National Myth, 2) Stealing the Land, 3) Genocide, 4) Assimilation and Boarding Schools, 5) Intergenerational Trauma and Resilience and 6) Our Responsibility and the Future.

Copies of the book are available at the library and online. We will also look into how to safely circulate the copies we have at UUFDC. If you don't want to "tackle the tome," there is a simplified version written expressly for young adults that might be to your liking. And here is some background material and links to wonderful articles that will enhance your participation in the discussion for sure. Even reading one of the articles listed will allow for a chance to participate in this meaningful and timely discussion.

This should be a wonderful experience for those who participate on Sept. 16. So read through this background info., and/or one or more of the resources listed, and/or the whole book! And get ready to launch!

A Little Background

In the introduction to An Indigenous Peoples’ History, Dunbar-Ortiz explains “The history of the United State is a history of settler colonialism --- the founding of a state based on the ideology of white supremacy, the widespread practice of African slavery, and a policy of genocide and land theft.”

After WWII, The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defined genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 1. killing members of the group; 2. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 3. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 4. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and 5. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

All of these acts were perpetuated against the native inhabitants of our country, yet our government has never acknowledged this. Recently Trudeau in Canada and the governor of California have used the term genocide publicly, stirring up controversy and exposing the national myths of both countries.

After centuries slaughtering Native Americans and taking their land, Congress passed several laws in the last two decades of the 19th century that were designed to effectively destroy Native American culture. The policy of assimilation led to Indian schools whose sole intent was to make Indian children into white children.

In a speech in 1892, Capt. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School commented; “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Writing US history from an Indigenous people’s perspective requires rethinking the consensual national narrative. The 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. Since this myth of altruistic manifest destiny persists, what this book forces us to examine is: How might acknowledging the reality of US history work to transform society?

Common Read Discussion via Zoom on Sept. 16, 2020


The UUF DC message by Dick Smythe “Our Invisible Minority” from Nov. 3, 2013. Available as a podcast on the UUFDC website here. Dick’s talk begins with useful statistics, then focuses on differences in Native perspectives on religion, creation, responsibility, respect, reciprocity, time, space, and ownership. He ends by reminding us of UU principles 1, 2, 6 and 7.

“The Problem with Wilderness” by Dina Gilio-WhitakerUU World (Spring 2020), pp. p. 28-32.  This piece is excerpted from Gilio-Whitaker’s book As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock (Beacon Press, 2019). The idea that the North American continent was “wilderness” was the among the first manifestations of white supremacy. It persisted in the removal of Native people from areas that became national parks

“A Trail of Tears and Money” by Caitlin Fitz, The Atlantic (May 2020), pp. 80-82.  The article is both a review of Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession if Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory by Claudio Staunton and an argument that the mass deportation of Native people in the 1830s could have been stopped! The vote on Andrew Jackson’s hallmark legislation was 102 to 97, and Jackson refused to abide by the Supreme Court decision to uphold Indian treaties.

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power, 2003 Pulitzer Prize.

Contact the Office ( or the SJC Committee with any questions.