An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People

Title: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People
Author: Roxanne Dunbar adapted by Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza
Publisher: Beacon Press
Pages: 270
Availability: On shelves now
Review copy: Purchased

*Full lDisclosure – I know Debbie Reese.

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

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

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

Review: United States history has been taught and told from the dominant cultural perspective since its founding. In this book readers are given the opportunity to see this history from an Indigenous view. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz shared this history in the original book several years ago and now Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza have created a version for young people and educators. These are many facts and stories that have been left out or glossed over in typical history books and media. For many, the facts contained in this book will be completely new and perhaps even shocking. Many times, history texts aim to show U.S. in a positive light and don’t point out some of the evils the government and others have perpetrated in the name of such things as progress or safety. There are also key concepts like sovereignty that have been omitted by design or out of ignorance. Many people in our country do not understand what the word sovereignty means in regards to Indigenous nations. This book and the original work share the history that people need to know in order to understand how our country arrived at present day with situations like the Standing Rock protests. Readers of this book will see that so many things make sense once the blanks have been filled in and the missing puzzle pieces are out on the table.

Even the names of things, which may seem like a small thing to some, tell a different story than the one many have heard before. The Massacre at Little Big Horn rather than the “battle” is not what most non-Native people have been taught. This is one example of how the framing of events have been shaping how we understand the past. Another example is when it is revealed that White people were getting paid for Native scalps. Texts written by White authors have been omitting important details like this for far too long. There are far too many instances of issues like this to note them all.

Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza have not simply adapted the words and provided facts from the original book, but they have included additional visuals and even more importantly, activities and prompts. These activities and prompts will help make the information more understandable. They will also help readers to become more critical consumers of information and resources of all kinds. Mendoza and Reese provide facts and then encourage the reader to question what we read and consider how the words we read shapes our thinking and how we perceive the world.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is a look into the history of this country that all people should experience. Teachers of all levels should be aware of this history along with young people.