Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
NLN Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.jpg
Born (1938-09-10) September 10, 1938 (age 81)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
OccupationLecturer, writer
  • Feminism
  • Native-American rights
Notable works
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (book)

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (born (1938-09-10)September 10, 1938) is a long-time American historian, writer, and activist.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1938[1] to an Oklahoma family, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in Central Oklahoma, daughter of a sharecropper and a mother that Dunbar believes to have been partially Native American. Dunbar's paternal grandfather, a settler of Scots-Irish ancestry, was a landed farmer, veterinarian, a labor activist and a Socialist Party member in Oklahoma and also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, "Wobblies". Her father was named after the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World—Moyer Haywood Pettibone Scarberry Dunbar. Her father's stories of her grandfather inspired her to lifelong social justice activism.[2]

Married at 18, she and her husband moved to San Francisco three years later, where she has lived most of the years since, although the marriage ended. Her account of life up to leaving Oklahoma is recorded in Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. She has a daughter Michelle. She later married writer Simon J. Ortiz.[3]

Dunbar-Ortiz graduated from San Francisco State College in 1963, majoring in History. She began graduate study in the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley but transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles completing her doctorate in history in 1974. In addition to the doctorate, she completed the Diplôme of the International Law of Human Rights at the International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France in 1983 and an MFA in Creative Writing at Mills College in 1993.


From 1967 to 1974, she was a full-time activist living in various parts of the United States, traveling to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba. She is also a veteran of the women's liberation movement. Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years outlines this time of her life, chronicling the years 1960–1975. She contributed the piece "Female liberation as the basis for social revolution" to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women's Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan.[4]

In 1974, she accepted a position as assistant professor in the newly established Native American Studies program at California State University at Hayward, where she helped develop the departments of Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies. In the wake of the Wounded Knee Siege of 1973, she became active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council, beginning a lifelong commitment to Indigenous peoples' right to self-determination and to international human rights.

Her first book, The Great Sioux Nation: An Oral History of the Sioux Nation and its Struggle for Sovereignty, was published in 1977 and presented as the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indians of the Americas, held at United Nations' headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The book was issued in a new edition by University of Nebraska Press in 2013. It was followed by two other books: Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico (1980) and Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination (1984). She also edited two anthologies on Native American economic development, while heading the Institute for Native American Development at the University of New Mexico.

In 1981, Dunbar-Ortiz was asked to visit Sandinista Nicaragua to appraise the land tenure situation of the Miskito Indians in the northeastern region of the country. Her two trips there that year coincided with the beginning of United States government's sponsorship of a proxy war to overthrow the Sandinistas, with the northeastern region on the border with Honduras becoming a war zone and the basis for extensive propaganda carried out by the Reagan administration against the Sandinistas. In over a hundred trips to Nicaragua and Honduras from 1981 to 1989, she monitored what was called the Contra War. She tells of these years in Caught in the Crossfire: The Miskitu Indians of Nicaragua (1985) and Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War (2005).

In her work An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz condemns the Discovery Doctrine and the settler colonialism that devastated Native American populations in the United States. She compares this form of religious bigotry to the modern-day conquests of al-Qaeda.[5] She states that with much of the current land within the United States was taken by aggression and oppression, "Native peoples have vast claims to reparations and restitution," yet "[n]o monetary amount can compensate for lands illegally seized, particularly those sacred lands necessary for Indigenous peoples to regain social coherence."[5]

She is featured in the feminist history film She's Beautiful When She's Angry.[6][7]

She is Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Hayward. Since retiring from university teaching,[8] she has been lecturing widely and writing.


The Lannan Foundation awarded Dunbar-Ortiz the 2017 Cultural Freedom Award, "for the achievements of her lifetime of tireless work."[9]

Selected works[edit]

  • Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2018. ISBN 9780872867239, OCLC 974677108
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. New York: Beacon, 2014. ISBN 9780807057834, OCLC 898228330
  • The Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgment on America (Random House, 1977), OCLC 12567161; (University of Nebraska Press, 2013). ISBN 9780803244832, OCLC 816026656
  • Roots of Resistance: Land Tenure in New Mexico, 1680–1980. Berkeley: University of California, 1980; new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. ISBN 9780806138336, OCLC 82473104
  • Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. Verso, June 1997; new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. ISBN 9780806137759, OCLC 907147398
  • Blood on the Border: Memoir of the Contra War. Boston: South End Press, 2005. ISBN 9780806153841, OCLC 947955776
  • Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–75. San Francisco: City Light Books, 2002. ISBN 9780806144795, OCLC 889868088
  • The Miskito Indians of Nicaragua: Caught in the Crossfire. London: Minority Rights Group, 1988. ISBN 9780946690596, OCLC 924840272
  • Indigenous Peoples: A Global Quest for Justice. (ed.) A Report for the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, Geneva. London: Zed Press, 1987.
  • La Cuestión Mískita en la Revolución Nicaragüense. México D.F.: Editorial Linea, 1986.
  • Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination. London: Zed Press; New York: Praeger, 1984. ISBN 9780030009143, OCLC 393606660
  • Native American Energy Resources and Development. (ed.) Albuquerque: Institute for Native American Development (INAD), University of New Mexico, 1980. ISBN 9780934090025, OCLC 7584489
  • Economic Development in American Indian Reservations. (ed.) Albuquerque: INAD, University of New Mexico, 1979.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fahs, Breanne (2018). Firebrand Feminism: The Radical Lives of Ti-Grace Atkinson, Kathie Sarachild, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and Dana Densmore. Seattle: University of Washington Press. p. 22.
  2. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006
  3. ^ Hylton, Forrest (May 2008). "A Revolutionary Identity". Monthly Review. pp. Volume 60, Issue 01. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970)". []. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  5. ^ a b Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2014). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 197–205.
  6. ^ "The Women".
  7. ^ "The Film — She's Beautiful When She's Angry". Retrieved 2017-04-28.
  8. ^ "Analyzing the Occupy Wall Street Movements With Roberto Lovato and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz". CSU East Bay. November 29, 2011. Retrieved 2018-04-28. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a long-time activist and author ... professor emeritus in the Department of Ethnic Studies at California State University East Bay in Hayward, California
  9. ^ "2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize awarded to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz". Lannan Foundation. Retrieved 2018-01-08.

External links[edit]