Indigenous Peoples’ History: An Annotated Bibliography
Teaching American Indian history, or history in general, has transformed dramatically over the past 20 years. Much of this is due to technological advancements such as PowerPoint, online resources, and web platforms such as Blackboard. But in large part it is also due to our changing perspectives on the past. The one truism to remember when teaching history is that all history is revisionism.
Our present-day realities shape the way we think about the past and interpret historical trends and figures. All too often, wide-eyed freshmen (and many others) cling to the notion that somehow history is a social science. Many institutions place the field in the social sciences department, right alongside psychology, sociology, and anthropology. It’s true that history is based on a set of facts and events that are unchangeable. For example, Christopher Columbus’ three ships—the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria—landed on an island in what is today the Bahamas in the year 1,492 of the Gregorian calendar. But our interpretation of those facts changes dramatically from generation to generation. Years ago, many people learned that Columbus “discovered” America and that the world changed for the better because of it, a belief held so strongly that the United States has a federal holiday commemorating the man. Today, I would venture to guess that very few college-level instructors teach this interpretation of Columbus and his voyage. While all may not portray him as a man driven by greed who committed countless atrocities, most at least complicate the narrative and point out that there is more than one story about Columbus.
In many ways, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are on the cutting edge of such historical revisionism. Long before perspectives on Columbus changed at mainstream institutions, TCUs offered an Indigenous perspective on the man and what his voyage meant for the millions of people living in the Americas. Indeed, a uniquely Native interpretation of events has been applied to the field of history at TCUs, setting them apart from their peer institutions. Fortunately, mainstream colleges and universities have diversified, opening the door to Native voices and historical interpretations. The historiography is also changing. Today there is an ever-growing body of literature that revamps our understanding of the past. Much of it is based on new evidence, both oral and archival, but other studies give new interpretations using the same historical records that previous generations of historians utilized.
Below are 10 history books that TCU educators may find useful. While Native historians have authored some of them, there are also titles by non-Natives, further evidence that Native voices are influencing the wider academy. In another 20 years, I am sure that some of these books will seem antiquated and out of touch with the then present realities. Just remember, all history is revisionism—and if you think that historians and educators today have had the final word on Columbus, you’re wrong.
Calloway, C.G. (1997). New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Historian Colin Calloway helped revise American Indian history in the academy with the publication of this award-winning book. Unlike previous studies that focused on how Europeans imposed their institutions on Native people and changed them forever, Calloway explores how the contact experience was a two-way street. He argues that Native people and culture profoundly influenced the invading Europeans and that, together, they created a new, distinctly American society.
Denetdale, J.N. (2007). Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
In her first book, Jennifer Nez Denetdale pulled few punches in her excoriation of the academy and how Western scholarship is another form of imperialism. The first citizen of the Navajo Nation to earn a Ph.D. in history, Denetdale employs some unique methods to make her case. She examines popular constructions of Chief Manuelito and Juanita, studying photographs, stories, and even their clothing. Uncompromising and ideological, Denetdale’s study helped forge a new path in the academy for Indigenous peoples’ history.
Dunbar-Ortiz, R. (2014). An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press.
Perhaps more than any publication in the past decade, this book dramatically showcases recent historical revisionism. It is a scorching condemnation of the United States as a settler-colonial state built on White supremacy and genocide. Dunbar-Ortiz rips previous historical interpretations (including many in this bibliography) as perpetuating national myths and rationalizing land theft and murder. Even the multiculturalism that informs many histories today fails to escape Dunbar-Ortiz’s indictment, which she claims is “an insidious smoke screen” that obscures the country’s “national chauvinism” and sordid history. Written concisely and accessibly, this book packs a powerful ideological punch.
Fixico, D.L. (2013). Indian Resilience and Rebuilding: Indigenous Nations in the Modern American West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Donald Fixico, a Native historian who currently teaches at Arizona State University, has authored or edited numerous volumes over the past 30 years. In his most recent book, he re-conceptualizes modern American Indian history as one of great achievement and progress. Where most histories focus on the tragedies of allotment, assimilation, termination, and relocation, Fixico explores the expansion of sovereignty and self-determination. Native nations were on the “verge of extinction in 1890,” he says, but persevered and went on to build their communities, harness resources, and protect their land base. The road was hard and there remain many obstacles ahead, but Fixico maintains historians should “look anew at what has been accomplished by Indians” over the past century.
Hoxie, F.E. (2012). This Indian Country: American Indian Activists and the Place They Made. New York: Penguin.
Acclaimed historian Frederick Hoxie traces American Indian history using biographies of Native activists who worked on behalf of their tribal communities. Some of the subjects in this book will be familiar to readers, while others will not. But by illuminating these obscured histories, Hoxie shows how individuals have deftly utilized political and legal channels for the betterment of Indian Country and the larger Native community.
Jennings, F. (1975). The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Francis Jennings’ groundbreaking book did the same for professional or academic history as Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee did for popular history. While Brown’s bestseller focused on the American West, Jennings uses New England as his case study of European conquest and its catastrophic effect on the Native nations. Jennings was writing during the Watergate scandal and a low point in Americans’ trust in government institutions, which clearly had a profound influence on the tenor of this study.
Mann, C.C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York: Vintage Books.
Charles C. Mann was not trained as an academic historian, but he does have a profound gift for writing. This acclaimed, bestselling popular history is both highly readable and intellectually stimulating. Mann brings to the masses a dramatic reconceptualization of the Americas before contact. Utilizing a variety of methodologies, his book shows how Native people transformed landscapes and made impressive technological advancements long before the arrival of Europeans.
Nabokov, P. (Ed.). (1991). Native American Testimony: A Chronicle of Indian-White Relations from Prophecy to the Present, 1492-1992. New York: Penguin.
Unlike the other books on this list, Nabokov’s edited volume presents a collection of Native voices from the past 500 years, offering Indigenous perspectives on major historical events and developments. Recently, Nabokov has been heavily criticized for his book The Origin Myth of Acoma Pueblo, which revealed sacred stories without the tribe’s consent. This volume, however, has been widely acclaimed, including accolades from Vine Deloria Jr. who penned the foreword. The book presents a wide array of Native viewpoints on issues ranging from Anglo trade practices during the colonial or early republic eras to the Alcatraz occupation and beyond.
Richter, D.K. (2001). Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
“If we shift our perspective to try to view the past in a way that faces east from Indian country, history takes on a very different appearance,” asserts historian Daniel Richter. That is how this Pulitzer Prize finalist approaches the early history of what would evolve into the United States. Rather than succumb to the classic national story of westward expansion, readers view the contact experience and its repercussions from Indian Country, which, Richter reminds us, was America until recently.
Roessel, R. (1974). Navajo Livestock Reduction: A National Disgrace. Chinle, AZ: Navajo Community College Press.
Diné College founder Ruth Roessel compiled this collection of stories and oral histories chronicling the federal government’s livestock reduction program of the 1930s. All of the stories are firsthand accounts from Navajo people who experienced this tragic chapter in American history. Moreover, this was one of the first titles from the first tribal college press, further underscoring the historiographical significance of Roessel’s work. Difficult to find, this gem is as much about self-determination and sovereignty in the historical discourse as it is about livestock reduction.
Bradley Shreve, Ph.D., taught history at Diné College for several years and currently is managing editor of Tribal College Journal.