Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne 1939-

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Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne 1939-


Born 1939, in San Antonio, TX; father a farmer; married (marriage ended); children: Michelle. Education: San Francisco State College, B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, Ph.D.


E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, activist, and teacher. Activist for antiwar, civil rights and women's liberation movements, 1967-72. Teacher in Native American Studies program, California State University at Hayward; professor of ethnic studies, California State University East Bay. Activist with American Indian Movement (AIM) and International Indian Treaty Council during the 1970s, lobbying for human rights for indigenous peoples. Cofounder, Indigenous World Association. Activist in nonintervention movement in Central America during the 1980s.



The Great Sioux Nation: Sitting in Judgment on America: Based on and Containing Testimony Heard at the "Sioux Treaty Hearing" held December, 1974, in Federal District Court, Lincoln, Nebraska, American Indian Treaty Council Information Center/Random House (New York, NY), 1977.

Roots of Resistance: Land Tenure in New Mexico, 1680-1980, Chicano Studies Research Center Publications (Los Angeles, CA), 1980.

Indians of the Americas: Human Rights and Self-Determination, Zed Books (London, England), 1984.

La Cuestión Miskita En La Revolución Nicaragüense, Editorial Línea (Mexico City, Mexico), 1986.

The Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, Minority Rights Group (London, England), 1988.

Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie (autobiography), Verso (New York, NY), 1997.

Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975 (autobiography), City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 2001.

Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War (autobiography), South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2007.


Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is an activist and teacher who has been involved in antiwar protests, civil rights actions, the women's liberation movement, and activism against apartheid. In addition to teaching, she is also a writer who has published three volumes of memoir and autobiography: Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, Outlaw Woman: Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975, and Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War. Dunbar-Ortiz grew up poor in Oklahoma. Her mother was half-Indian and her father was a sharecropper. Yet Dunbar-Ortiz inherited a rich heritage from her paternal grandfather, a veterinarian and farmer who had also worked as a labor activist and was a Socialist who was associated with the Industrial Workers of the World in the early years of the twentieth century. As an asthmatic child who was often confined to bed, Dunbar-Ortiz had plenty of opportunities to hear her grandfather recounting tales of his past, and these stories inspired her to a life dedicated to seeking social justice. After marrying when she was eighteen years old, Dunbar-Ortiz left for California with her husband.

The author recounted her early years before she left Oklahoma in her book Red Dirt. In it, she notes that her Oklahoma roots are a source of pride as well as shame. She explains the hatred and prejudice that was directed at poor Oklahomans during the years covered in the book. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the writer does a good job sketching her family members, with all their strengths and weaknesses, and the story of her "fight to escape the poverty, small-mindedness and abuse of her beginnings" provides "inspiring reading." Chad Montrie, reviewing Red Dirt for the Journal of Women's History, noted that, aside from telling the author's own story, this book illuminates the lives of a whole class of people: "It is a window into the lives of the white rural poor."

Dunbar-Ortiz's next volume of autobiography, Outlaw Woman, covered her transformation from young newlywed to radical activist. Like so many women who married in the 1950s, Dunbar-Ortiz was convinced she should fill the role of wife and mother in a traditional manner. From the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, however, the author redefined herself. Leaving her husband and her child, she threw herself into the revolutions of the era, adhering to a philosophy that put women's liberation at the heart of the larger cause to bring down imperialism and capitalism in the United States. "The story is at once fascinating and frustrating, as Dunbar takes the reader into the mire of sixties ideology and organizational positions," commented Karen Kahn in the Women's Review of Books. Kahn found Dunbar-Ortiz's personal story "fascinating, revealing much about the contradictions that seemed to drive her." Laurie Hergott, reviewing the book for Briarpatch, recommended it as a "compelling account of one woman's journey through an important period of North American cultural history."

As more years passed, Dunbar-Ortiz became very involved as a leftist activist supporting the Nicaraguan Sandanistas in their struggle against the U.S.-backed Contra forces. In Blood on the Border, she not only recounts her personal experiences of that time but also uses the Contra war to illuminate the twenty-first century ambitions of the U.S. government, which she believes are "expansion and control, by whatever means necessary," according to Ron Jacobs in Counter Punch. The author points out that many of the principal players behind U.S. actions in Nicaragua are the same people who are making policy in the era of war in the Persian Gulf. Jacobs summarized: "Occasionally depressing, but never hopeless; instructional, but never tedious; Blood on the Border is further proof from the pen of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz that memoir can be more than navel-gazing and self-flattery. In this instance it is history and political education."



Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, South End Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960-1975, City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 2001.

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, Verso (New York, NY), 1997.


Booklist, May 15, 2002, Vanessa Bush, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 1558.

Briarpatch, March, 2003, Laurie Hergott, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 30.

Journal of Women's History, winter, 2000, Chad Montrie, review of Red Dirt, p. 202.

Library Journal, July, 2002, Debra Moore, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 105.

Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1997, Osha Gray Davidson, review of Red Dirt, p. 14; July 14, 2002, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 10.

Progressive, September, 2002, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, June 23, 1997, review of Red Dirt, p. 78; April 22, 2002, review of Outlaw Woman, p. 66.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2008, review of Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico.

Socialism and Democracy, July, 2006, Roberta L. Salper, review of Blood on the Border, p. 171.

Tikkun, January 1, 2006, Joan G. Kaplan, review of Blood on the Border, p. 74.

Women's Review of Books, September, 2002, Karen Kahn, "Looking for the Revolution," p. 5.


Counter Punch,http://www.counterpunch.org/ (November 28, 2005), review of Blood on the Border.

PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com/ (August 28, 2002), Jessica Bopp, review of Outlaw Woman.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Home Page,http://www.reddirtsite.com (March 18, 2008).

Turtle Talk,http://turtletalk.wordpress.com/ (January 4, 2008), interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Z,http://www.zmag.org/ (July-August, 2002), Elizabeth Martinez, review of Outlaw Woman.

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