- "All the Real Indians Died Off" and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker have published a book dispelling the most common and some not so common myths about Native Americans. Well known for her 2014 book An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz spent many years in California, where she completed a doctorate in history at the University of California Los Angeles. As an activist, she traveled extensively within the United States, as well as to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba. Dina Gilio-Whitaker, a writer, earned an MA in American studies from the University of New Mexico. Currently, Gilio-Whitaker does research for the Center for World Indigenous Studies. The collaborative efforts of these two women have produced a text that reaches the general public and educators alike.
The authors wrote the book "to unpack various tenets of settler colonialism and at the same time construct a counter-narrative, one based in truth" (6). This statement identifies that a primary purpose of the text is to expose common myths about Native Americans and replace those myths with facts. The sources consulted include academic journals and political websites such as Americans United (www.au.org). Using both formal and informal sources encouraged a dialogue that could potentially change the educational texts used in history and civics courses. Indeed, some myths have been corrected, but Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker [End Page 393] claimed more change was needed. Additionally, the authors reviewed little-known myths such as "The United States Did Not Have a Policy of Genocide" and "Indians Are Anti-science" (vii–viii). The chapters in the book are short and concise, making it easy to read and to follow the historical and social references, thus making the text more accessible to general readers. The book sends a powerful message about how these kinds of fallacies negatively impacted Indigenous identity and kept many from fully participating in their culture or society as a whole.
The authors use the framework of settler colonialism as they discuss themes of "structural violence" and racism (3). The text notes that "myths about Native peoples outlined in this book grow from the racialized social structures upon which the United States is built" (6). Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker do not mince words, and they deliver a clear message that these myths perpetuate "Indigenous invisibility" and solidify the fallacies used against Native Americans. The authors argue that the myth that Columbus discovered America "can be thought of as the greatest piece of propaganda of the last five centuries" (24). Additionally, the text debunks the entire myth of Columbus by using a direct quote from an actual entry in Columbus's personal log proving he planned to enslave the Taíno people (25–26). It should be noted that Americans hold on to the celebration of Columbus Day even when confronted by facts that support the claim that Columbus killed and enslaved the people who offered him hospitality (26).
The chapter on myth 8, "The United States Did Not Have a Policy of Genocide," opens with the story of a young Native American student attending Sacramento State University. In 2015 the university removed Chiitaanibah Johnson from her American history course because she disagreed with her instructor about the genocide of Native American people (58). The authors' investigation of this myth reveals some reasons historians argue that there was no genocide of Native American people in America: "The most common method among historians who argue against it is to compare the Native American experience to other genocides" (60). The tenets of American exceptionalism can be seen clearly in both the story of the young woman and the discourse among historians debating genocide in the United States.
The myth "The Only Real Indians Are Full-Bloods, and They Are Dying Off" may arguably have done more damage to Native American [End Page 394] tribes than any of...