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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

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Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Dunbar-Ortiz in 2010
Born (1938-09-10) September 10, 1938 (age 85)
  • Historian
  • Activist
SpouseSimon J. Ortiz (third husband)[1]
Writing career
Notable works

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (born September 10, 1938) is an American historian, writer, professor, and activist based in San Francisco. Born in Texas, she grew up in Oklahoma and is a social justice and feminist activist.[1] She has written numerous books including Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra Years (2005), Red Dirt: Growing up Okie (1992),[1] and An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (2014). She is professor emeritus in Ethnic Studies at California State University.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1938[3] to an Oklahoma family, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in Central Oklahoma. Her father was a sharecropper of Scots-Irish ancestry. Dunbar claims her mother was of Cherokee descent.[1] Dunbar-Ortiz initially self-identified as having Cheyenne ancestry, but she subsequently acknowledged that she is white.[4] She has since claimed to be of Cherokee descent,[4] and that her mother denied her Native ancestry after marrying into a white family.[5] Because of her various claims of having Indigenous ancestry, Dunbar acknowledged that she has been "denounced as a fraud for pretending to be Native American."[6]

Dunbar's paternal grandfather was a settler, landed farmer, veterinarian, labor activist, and member Socialist Party in Oklahoma and the Industrial Workers of the World. Her father, Moyer Haywood Pettibone Scarberry Dunbar, was named after the leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World, "Big" Bill Haywood. Her father's stories of her grandfather inspired her to lifelong social justice activism.[7] Her account of life up to leaving Oklahoma is recorded in the book Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie.

Married at 18, Dunbar-Ortiz and her husband moved to San Francisco three years later, where she has lived most of the years since. This marriage later ended. She has a daughter, Michelle. She later married writer Simon J. Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo).[8]

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 there 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 was also involved in the women's liberation movement. Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years outlines this time of her life, chronicling the years 1960–1975.

In 1968 she founded Cell 16, which was a feminist organization in the United States known for its program of celibacy, separation from men and self-defense training (specifically karate); it has been cited as the first organization to advance the concept of separatist feminism.[9][10][11]

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.[12]

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.

She edited the book The Great Sioux Nation, which 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. The Great Sioux Nation 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).[13][14]

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.[15] She states that, since 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."[15]

She is featured in the feminist history film She's Beautiful When She's Angry.[16][17]

She is Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies at California State University, Hayward. Since retiring from university teaching,[18] she has been lecturing widely and continues to write.


The Lannan Foundation awarded Dunbar-Ortiz the 2017 Cultural Freedom Award "for the achievements of her lifetime of tireless work."[19]

Selected works[edit]

  • Not "a Nation of Immigrants": Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion. Beacon, 2021. ISBN 9780807036297
  • Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. City Lights Books, 2018. ISBN 9780872867239, OCLC 974677108
  • "All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans. Beacon, 2016.
  • An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. 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. University of California, 1980; new edition, University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. ISBN 9780806138336, OCLC 82473104
  • Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. Verso, 1997; new edition, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. ISBN 9780806137759, OCLC 907147398
  • Blood on the Border: Memoir of the Contra War. South End Press, 2005. ISBN 9780806153841, OCLC 947955776
  • Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–75. City Light Books, 2002. ISBN 9780806144795, OCLC 889868088
  • The Miskito Indians of Nicaragua. 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. Zed Press, 1987.
  • La Cuestión Mískita en la Revolución Nicaragüense. Editorial Linea, 1986.
  • Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination. Zed Press; 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.) INAD, University of New Mexico, 1979.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Hylton, Forrest (May 1, 2008). "A Revolutionary Identity". Monthly Review. 60 (1): 51. doi:10.14452/MR-060-01-2008-05_6. Retrieved July 26, 2023.
  2. ^ "Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz." Boston Review. https://www.bostonreview.net/authors/roxanne-dunbar-ortiz/
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b Meredith, America (August 15, 2017). "Issues & Commentary: Ethnic Fraud and Art". ARTnews. Retrieved August 27, 2022.
  5. ^ "'The Land is the Body of the Native People': Talking with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz". The Progressive. July 4, 2018. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  6. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2016). Blood on the Border A Memoir of the Contra War. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780806156439.
  7. ^ Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2006). Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. University of Oklahoma Press.
  8. ^ Hylton, Forrest (May 2008). "A Revolutionary Identity". Monthly Review. Vol. 60, no. 1. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  9. ^ Saulnier, Christine F. (1996). Feminist Theories and Social Work: Approaches and Applications. Haworth Press. ISBN 1-56024-945-5.
  10. ^ Bevacqua, Maria (2000). Rape on the Public Agenda: Feminism and the Politics of Sexual Assault. ISBN 1-55553-446-5.
  11. ^ Echols, Alice (1990). Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75. University of Minnesota Press. p. 164. ISBN 0-8166-1787-2.
  12. ^ Sisterhood is powerful : an anthology of writings from the women's liberation movement (Book, 1970). [WorldCat.org]. OCLC 96157.
  13. ^ Kaplan, Joan G. (2006). "Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (review)". Tikkun. 21 (1): 74–75. ISSN 2164-0041. Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  14. ^ Salper, Roberta L. (April 16, 2011). "Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War". Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy Online. 20 (2). Retrieved January 21, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne (2014). An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 197–205.
  16. ^ "The Women".
  17. ^ "The Film — She's Beautiful When She's Angry". Shesbeautifulwhenshesangry.com. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  18. ^ "Analyzing the Occupy Wall Street Movements With Roberto Lovato and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz". CSU East Bay. November 29, 2011. Retrieved April 28, 2018. 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
  19. ^ "2017 Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize awarded to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz". Lannan Foundation. Retrieved January 8, 2018.

External links[edit]