A few years ago I bought the book “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” by Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, which was a 2015 American Book Award winner. I had not heard of her or the book before, but I was curious. As someone who was a college student in Boston/Cambridge — when Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” was popular — I understand the value of reading ‘dissenting’ perspectives of history.
I also appreciate the role that Native tribal members and leaders play in the environmental movement, before and during the Standing Rock encampments, as water protectors and as role models. Idle No More and Black Lives Matter speak to the violence against people of color, and to the Earth.
In Minnesota, Honor the Earth and the White Earth Land Recovery Project have been in the forefront, trying to educate the public about justice for native peoples and about natural resource management for the future. Using the reverent language of Native cultures, the two groups have been working toward greater respect for Grandmother Earth for decades.
When I came across Dunbar-Ortiz’s book, it felt to me like something was moving and more people were involved in these issues.
After I finished the book, my thoughts were much more profound and deep, along these lines: The mainstream culture in the U.S. will NEVER BE ABLE to grasp the significance of, nor to grieve, the destruction that human “civilization” is inflicting on the biodiversity of Earth, on all life, if we — the cumulative community of the United States of America — cannot face our history.
A majority of our leadership laid waste to the pre-European-contact civilizations, brought about the Native genocide, and caused the bondage of people in slavery.
Those of us reading this essay can say that we know intellectually that the modern developed world is literally destroying the basis of life on Earth. We can say that we know that we must wake to that in our minds and in our hearts.
However, I don’t think we — as a country and as individuals — will be able to accomplish any meaningful change if we don’t understand how greed, and dominance of humans over other humans and over the natural world, is the foundation of our society.
To build something new, and to get to where many of us say we want to go, we truly have to understand and acknowledge and face our history as a nation.
It wasn’t until after I read Dunbar-Ortiz’s book that I realized how even progressive, enlightened me had a long way to go to understand what needs to happen next.
That’s why I am one of the people who is bringing Dunbar-Ortiz to Minnesota on September 27 for a talk about “The White Supremacist Roots of the Second Amendment.”
She is specifically talking about why thoughtful people in the United States today wonder why gun laws are so hard to change. Especially given all the accumulated statistics on gun deaths daily, due to domestic arguments, accidents, road rage, and mass shootings. Why are fear and inertia preventing laws and regulations that would govern the number and types of guns people can legally own?
Dunbar-Ortiz’s latest book, “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment,” explains where gun law reformers have it wrong, what the Bill of Rights actually says about personal gun ownership. Her talk will explain how gun ownership today has its ties to theft of the land from indigenous people and control of slaves.
Native genocide is still happening. Tribal governments still have to fight for standing in the courts. Indigenous sovereignty still is not acknowledged in the public consciousness.
The Civil War is still being fought. African-Americans are still discriminated against in the courts, by law enforcement, and in the workplace.
We can pretend we have progressed. But the same story is unfolding every day — simply with different words in different news channels.
We need to be listening to different storytellers and doing self-reflection work as a country so that we can begin the long overdue process of healing and repairing the traumas of our past.
Our “normal” deeply needs to be re-aligned.