Book Review: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of The United States

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History, #3)An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read a portion of the Project 1619 publication in the New York Times Magazine. Which was really eye opening. I hadn’t realized the economy legacy of Slavery (or the cotton price crash related to slavery). I didn’t know about the immediate resurgence of the former slaves during the Reconstruction of the south with the swift and sudden destruction of that community. So, I was talking with my wife about how we needed a similar project for Native Americans. I happened to see a tweet from a writer I follower on Twitter, Eve E. Ewing about differences in coverage of Indigenous Peoples in other countries and the U.S. I tweeted how there needed to be a 1619 Project and she suggested I read this book. I really appreciated that, because I understand it’s not the responsibility of advocates to educate me on these topics. It’s my own.

So, on to the book. This book was a lot to read. It was a slow read for me. It’s not a very long book, coming in at around 250 pages. However, there’s a huge amount of information packed in to this book. As a reader, you get the impression that this is a survey of the histories of Indigenous Peoples. It has to be.

The book starts by setting the record straight on the science and cultures of the Peoples ranging from South America, Central America, and then into North America, before the first contact between Spanish and Portuguese conquerors and the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. After explaining how the Indigenous Peoples cultivated the land, including farming and creating deer parks (which were managed forests where it was easy to raise deer and hunt deer), Dunbar-Ortiz moves onto migratory patterns of people over the course of centuries and various trade routes. This set the stage that this was a very inhabited place whereupon colonizers usurped the land from the peoples living here.

Dunbar-Ortiz then moves on to the first contact with the Spanish, Portuguese and other Europeans. From then on, it is an unblinking look at the hard truths of the slaughter of Indigenous Americans. As most of you know, historians use lenses to explain specific events. To me, it felt like the lens used here was the interaction between Settlers/Colonizers/US citizens and various native nations. For example, the Sioux were introduced at two points, once to explain their migratory history (which shows migration from South and Central America to North America has been happening for centuries) and when there was land theft and aggression by illegal settlers and/or the US Government.

I think this is the appropriate context for an accurate understanding of the relationship between the US and Indigenous Nations. So much of the US’s history is predicated on exterminating the Indigenous Nations preventing Manifest Destiny. George Washington called for the elimination of Native Americans. Andrew Jackson built his personal brand on the slaughter and flaying of Muskokee (Creek) villagers. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan and you like Ramsay Bolton, Andrew Jackson was your President. He literally flayed villagers and turn their skin into tack for his horse. He was proud of doing this.

Throughout history classes that were taught at my conservative high school, we glossed over much of the interaction between the US Government and Indigenous Nations. Things like the Trail of Tears (perpetrated by Jackson) were sad things that happened, but weren’t the norm, according to my 10th grade history class. However, reading this book, it’s clear to me, that was the norm not the exception.

Even in cases where the forced migration wasn’t as obvious as that, there was forced migration to avoid war with illegal settlers or the US Army. Going back to the Sioux, that Nation was forced away from it’s holy land, The Black Hills. You might know that as where Mt. Rushmore resides. I cannot imagine what it would be like for something so foundational to me as a people being destroyed with the faces of your oppressors.

You might say, “But Lincoln is on there! He was a good guy!” Well guess what, DURING the Civil War the US Army was attacking the Navajo in New Mexico and Arizona. Every person on that monument is someone that made it their goal to destroy native peoples while they were President.

This book was brutal to read. I’m sitting here drinking my tea enjoying the legacy of these atrocities. While reading this book, I would oscillate between disgust and a desire to help the Indigenous Peoples of the various Nations in North America. Fortunately, the author gave some recommendations at the end of the book.

First and foremost, encourage the US Government to honor the treaties (that are still in effect) they made with the Indigenous Nations. That includes repatriating portions of land back to those Nations. Treat them as true Sovereign Nations with all the rights that gives.

For US Voters, that also means supporting candidates that don’t pretend they are Native Americans of any kind, unless they are literally recognized by that Nation as a citizen.

This book should be required reading for all seniors in high school. It’s important that we have honest discussions about where the US came from. Because, as the last chapter explains, all our wars with other foreign nations use the same Total War tactics as we did against the Indigenous Nations of America.

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Is There a Disconnect Between Knowledge Workers and Business Leaders?

The past two weeks I’ve read a number of articles about the End of Agile and subsequent rebuttals. Yesterday I read an excellent article asking “Whatever Happened to Six Sigma?” Both of these articles are fascinating. The rebuttals to the first are incredibly enlightening. I don’t think these are the last of these sorts of articles. I expect to read “The End of Lean” down the road as well.

I think there are a few reasons, one of them is common between Six Sigma and Agile. Snake Oil Salespeople. Basically, what has happened with all methodologies (except for PMI’s Waterfall approach – which I’ll get to) there reaches a point in time where it becomes impossible to determine the quality of credentials for a given certification. At that point, the certification is valueless even if the training, like you dear reader received, was actually the top of the top. Because there’s no actual way to determine if the quality is any good or not.

I experienced this first hand while I was teaching Lean Six Sigma at AMD. I had some fantastic mentors when I was working there, that lived and breathed Six Sigma for their entire careers. They knew this stuff inside and out. Which made me gain a much deeper appreciation for the methodology. However, there was another small company in Austin that also taught Six Sigma to their employees, Dell. Whenever we hired people from Dell with a certification in Six Sigma, a Green Belt or even a Black Belt, we essentially had to retrain them. Many of them, did not truly internalize what they were taught, or the material was less rigorous. This was likely a trade off the Six Sigma training team had to make to ensure their team remained relevant to Dell.

However, whenever you cannot trust the training from an organization like Dell, it makes it a lot more difficult to trust training for any other organization. You just don’t know the standards. Agile’s currently experiencing the exact same issue. There’s been a huge influx of organizations giving certifications. Not all of them have the same level of quality.

I think as a reaction to this, the software development industry has created DevOps and DevSecOps. Which doesn’t have a certification process, but a general set of ideas, such as Trunk development, rigorous testing, continuous integration, and on the extreme continuous deployment.

I think all this goes back to a basic premise though. Knowledge workers, like engineers and software developers look at problems very differently than business leaders. I first experienced this while I was in college. I was studying Industrial Engineering (which pulls in elements from Six Sigma, Lean, Network Theory, Simulation, Human Factors, etc…) while a good friend was studying Business. We had a few conversations about how businesses should be run and it was very obvious to me, that we were talking about two completely different views of how a firm should be run.

I was arguing against (in 2003) off-shoring, because it decreased the efficiency of engineering and collaboration between manufacturing and engineering. Both Agile and Lean argue against off-shoring due to these reasons. Given the change in the approach, the salary savings, overall, didn’t make the effort worth it, because of the reasons I listed. My friend thought lowering cost was the right thing to do.

This isn’t just an anecdotal thing though. If you read books about Agile, Theory of Constraints, or Innovation, they all make the same arguments. The ideas taught in business school are causing business leaders to make bad ideas. Theory of Constraints was popularized in the book The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and came out in 1984. The ideas he espoused in that book were considered counter intuitive. If you read the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim which came out in 2013, which is written to model The Goal,¬†you’ll find the characters running into, literally, the exact same type of thinking by managers and other team members. To me, this means there are other cultural organizations that are pushing back against the approaches technical leaders find work best and what our business leaders find work best for their goals.

The two most obvious cases for this are Accounting (which The Goal sets up as something of an antagonist) and Executives. Accounting has the weight of Law on its side, which is problematic, because Accounting organizations has their own reason for maintaining a status quo. They have their own certification process to become a CPA. From the executives standpoint, in many cases these folks are presented as having an MBA and excellent business training.

Despite that, they are still making poor business decisions for the technical team, poor decisions about how to structure their organization, and poor decisions about how to run projects. Most projects are run using a Waterfall approach, because that is the defacto approach we’re all taught throughout school. We manage to dates and push to get things done. The Project Management Institute has managed to corner the market on this approach, because most people can “do waterfall” without needing a certification. You learn through osmosis, by doing. The certification certainly elevates some PMs in some organizations. However, I don’t really think that having a PMP matters to most hiring managers.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with Knowledge Workers using ideas like Six Sigma, Lean, DevOps, Agile, and more to dress up their structured problem solving approaches to add structure and credibility. They need structure to compete with the Date Managed Waterfall approach. They need credibility of a methodology to put their approach on the same level as a PMP certification. In the case of Six Sigma, I’d argue its biggest success was internalizing the cost saving analysis. This helped translated the output in terms of money, which executives understand.

Every other approach tries to create an alternative measure. Elimination of Waste or “Working Software is the Measure of Progress” are nice alternatives to reducing costs or meeting due dates.

However, most share holders don’t care about that. They only care about what’s going to make them more money. Ethics and approach be damned. Until that is resolved. We’ll continue to have more fads or business fashions, as Knowledge Workers push back against Business Leaders.