Our History is the Future by Nick Estes

Introduction by
Charmaine Chua
October 12, 2020

Estes’ insurgent history demands that we reject the limp gestures of “reconciliation” and “reparations” symbolically extended by the settler state, and that we instead work to return the land to its original caretakers, and with it, a new world and a way out of climate catastrophe and colonial relations.


is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we celebrate the continuity and future of Indigenous Peoples’ struggle with a review forum on Nick Estes’ extraordinary book, Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance.

Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, tells the story of the 2016-17 fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline as a portal into the longer history of the Oceti Sakowin’s resistance to settler colonialism. By placing the #NoDAPL movement at Standing Rock within this timeline, Estes argues that it was both exceptional — as the largest Indigenous-led movement in North America in the twenty-first century — and unexceptional, as the continuation of centuries of Indigenous resistance to settler invader eradication. Refusing dominant U.S. historical narratives built on the erasure of Indigenous peoples’ struggle, Estes’ insurgent history invites readers to reject the limp gestures of “reconciliation” and “reparations” symbolically extended by the settler state, and to instead work to return the land to its original caretakers, and with it, a new world and a way out of climate catastrophe and colonial relations. As Shiri Pasternak writes, this book is both an indictment of settler society, and an invitation to open our ears: “If we can hear the story, we can face the future of necessary struggle as real partners.”

This forum is based on a book panel I had the pleasure of organizing in 2018 at Oberlin College, where Jakeet Singh, Shiri Pasternak, Robert Nichols (who could not be with us in writing), and Nick Estes gathered to discuss Our History is the Future in front of a packed room of three hundred undergraduate students. We are honored and fortunate that Majerle Lister and Mike Fabris have been able to make important contributions to the conversation in this forum.

While the book has been widely celebrated and reviewed, this forum considers Our History is the Future’s impact and implications across a variety of disciplines and social movement contexts both within and beyond the academy. We are invited to consider its implications for both resisting the colonial relation and affirming alternative ways of being otherwise in Jakeet Singh’s contribution; to consider the myriad ways that settler society is “unable to hear” in Shiri Pasternak’s review; to follow Majerle Lister in understanding the function of racial capitalism in the devaluation of Indigenous lands and people; and to consider with Mike Fabris the counter-insurgent strategies through which settler states, institutions and actors weaponize Indigenous forms of knowledge to wage campaigns of genocide against Indigenous nations. As many of the reviewers note, the book’s sharp analysis and careful research are pitched not to an academic audience but for the purposes of popular education and social movement struggle. As Fabris writes, then, grappling with the political and intellectual freight of Our History is the Future might mean “it is actually the academic audience that might struggle with accessing some of its…interventions,” written without pretension to scholarly objectivity and explicitly for a liberatory movement politics.

Much has happened in the world since Water Protectors stood defiantly in front of tanks, attack dogs, bulldozers and riot cops, and were sprayed with tear gas, water cannons, and more at Standing Rock in 2016. Yet today, Water Protectors continue to fight on the frontlines of abolitionist, anti-fascist, and anti-colonial movements around the world. As Nick Estes notes in his characteristically incisive and generative author’s response, “The spirit of Mni Wiconi — Water is Life— and the #NoDAPL movement lives on. In many ways, it has grown.”

Our History is the Future is not only a seminal book, it is also a living vision of a future for which we must all struggle.

Charmaine Chua is an Assistant Professor of Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara and the reviews and magazine editor of Society and Space

essays in this forum

Our History is the Future, Review by Majerle Lister

Estes makes it clear that the resistance at Standing Rock was more than a site of environmental struggle with Indigenous people at the forefront. It was a site of emancipatory struggle for all oppressed people and the crucial resources that were threatened by the extractive project.


Majerle Lister

Our History is the Future, Review by Shiri Pasternak

Our History is the Future is a deeply engaging book that threads together a number of crucial historical purposive forces: the way Indigenous lands are linked to broader national political economies; the way Indigenous peoples must navigate the impacts of colonialism on their governance systems and leadership; the way Indigenous life is sown on the loom of Indigenous women and their leadership; the way that structural violence – the worst, most violent, and genocidal kind – can be survived, and not only survived, but that life can thrive and lead society out of catastrophe.


Shiri Pasternak

Convergent Oppositions, Divergent Affirmations: Questions of Decolonial Politics in Nick Estes’ Our History is the Future, Review by Jakeet Singh

Decolonization involves explicit attempts not only to resist and ultimately overcome the colonial relation, but also to affirm and enact some colonized or otherwise alternative knowledge systems, ways of being, and forms of social and political organization. These two interrelated dimensions of decolonial politics play a significant role in Nick Estes’ remarkable book Our History is the Future.


Jakeet Singh

The Political Implications of Estes’ Our History is the Future, Review by Michael Fabris

This book shows the strengths of taking transdisciplinary interventions, explicitly putting academic work in conversation with the theoretical and political questions that Indigenous activists, organizers, and community advocates are regularly grappling with outside of the university context.


Michael Fabris

Water Protectors Gave Us a Vision of the Future

A burning cop car or a burning police station are unambiguous in their message and in their aspirations for a just world; they cannot be coopted by the status quo just like land back to its caretakers cannot be put into practice by the settler state. This is spirit of the Water Protector, the possibilities I tried to capture in Our History Is the Future: the courage to struggle, and the courage to win.


Nick Estes