Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz


“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, daughter of a landless farmer and half-Indian mother. Her paternal grandfather, a white settler, farmer, and veterinarian, had been a labor activist and Socialist in Oklahoma with the Industrial Workers of the World in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The stories of her grandfather inspired her to lifelong social justice activism.

Married at eighteen, she left with her husband for San Francisco, California, 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.

Roxanne graduated, majoring in History, from San Francisco State College, a working class public institution, but was selected for History graduate school at University of California at Berkeley, transferring to University of California, Los Angeles to complete her doctorate in History.

From 1967 to 1972, she was a full time activist living in various parts of the United States, traveling to Europe, Mexico, and Cuba. This time of her life and the aftermath, 1960-1975, is the story told in Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years.

Roxanne took a position teaching in a newly established Native American Studies program at California State University at Hayward, near San Francisco, and helped develop the Department of Ethnic Studies, as well as Women’s Studies. In 1974, she became active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the International Indian Treaty Council, beginning a lifelong commitment to international human rights.

Her first published book, The Great Sioux Nation: An Oral History of the Sioux Nation and its Struggle for Sovereignty, was published in 1977 and was presented as the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indians of the Americas, held at United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. That book was followed by two others in the following years: Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, 1680-1980 and Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination.

In 1981, she was asked to visit Sandinista Nicaragua to appraise the land tenure situation of the Miskitu 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. Her book, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War was published in 2005.”

Bio from her website:

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An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. New York: Beacon, 2014.

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The Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgment on America (Random House, 1977), (University of Nebraska Press, 2013).

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Roots of Resistance: Land Tenure in New Mexico, 1680–1980. Berkeley: University of California, 1980; new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.

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Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie. Verso, June 1997; new edition, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

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Blood on the Border: Memoir of the Contra War. Boston: South End Press, 2005.

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Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–75. San Francisco: City Light Books, 2002.

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Indigenous Peoples: A Global Quest for Justice. (ed.) A Report for the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, Geneva. London: Zed Press, 1987.

The Miskito Indians of Nicaragua: Caught in the Crossfire. London: Minority Rights Group, 1988.

  • 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.
  • Native American Energy Resources and Development. (ed.) Albuquerque: Institute for Native American Development (INAD), University of New Mexico, 1980.
  • Economic Development in American Indian Reservations. (ed.) Albuquerque: INAD, University of New Mexico, 1979.


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