American Indians Staged an Occupation in 1969

American Indians Staged an Occupation in 1969

Since the mid-1960s, American Indians had been on a mission to break into Alcatraz. Later on the famed prison shuttered its doors in 1963, Bay Area Native Americans began lobbying to have the island redeveloped every bit an Indian cultural center and school. Five Sioux even landed on Alcatraz in March 1964 and tried to seize it under an 1868 treaty that allowed Indians to appropriate surplus federal land. These early efforts all failed, simply reclaiming “the Rock” became a rallying cry for Indians, many of whom viewed the island as a symbol of authorities indifference toward the Indigenous population.

When an October 1969 fire destroyed San Francisco’due south American Indian Eye, an activist group known as “Indians of All Tribes” set their sights on the unused land at Alcatraz. A scattering of protestors commencement journeyed to the island on November 9, 1969 nether the leadership of Mohawk college student Richard Oakes. They just stayed for a night earlier the regime removed them, just Oakes stressed that the landing had been a symbolic human activity. “If a i day occupation by white men on Indian land years ago established squatter’s rights,” he told the San Francisco Relate, “and so the one day occupation of Alcatraz should establish Indian rights to the island.”

Indians of All Tribes fabricated a last try to seize Alcatraz in the early on forenoon hours of Nov 20, 1969—this time with an occupation force of 89 men, women and children. After sailing through San Francisco Bay under embrace of darkness, the Indians landed at Alcatraz and claimed the island for all the tribes of North America. Ignoring warnings that their occupation was illegal, they moved into the old warden’south house and guards’ quarters and began personalizing the isle with graffiti. A message appeared on the h2o tower reading: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” Other buildings were tagged with slogans like “Red Power” and “Custer Had Information technology Coming.”

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The Indians’ starting time official proclamation to the public followed shortly thereafter in a manifesto addressed to “The Great White Father and All His People.” In it, they stated their intentions to utilise the island for an Indian school, cultural center and museum. They claimed Alcatraz was theirs “by correct of discovery,” but they sarcastically offered to buy it for “$24 in glass chaplet and red cloth”—the same price that Indians supposedly received for the isle of Manhattan. The activists added that they didn’t mind that the isle was underdeveloped or lacked fresh water, since most of them had already endured like conditions on government Indian reservations.

Wary of the fallout that could accompany an endeavour to remove the Indians past force, the Nixon administration opted to bide its time and exit the occupiers alone as long equally they remained peaceful. Authorities officials afterwards journeyed to the isle on multiple occasions to negotiate, just their diplomatic efforts diameter little fruit. The activists were adamant that they would settle for nothing less than the human action to Alcatraz Island, while the Authorities Services Assistants and other agencies maintained that a land transfer was incommunicable.

As the two sides debated, the Indians continued settling into their new home. “We all had things to offer each other,” resident Luwana Quitquit afterward remembered. “Alliance. Sisterhood.” Native American college students and activists flocked to join the protest, and the population of Alcatraz often swelled to more than 600 people. A governing council was formed, and the isle presently had its own clinic, kitchen, public relations department and even a nursery and grade school for its children. A security forcefulness dubbed the “Bureau of Caucasian Affairs” (a riff on the much-hated “Bureau of Indian Affairs”) patrolled the shoreline to watch for intruders, and a Sioux named John Trudell hopped behind the mic to broadcast radio updates under the banner of “Radio Free Alcatraz.”

Ringlet to Go on

Other activists supported the occupation by shuttling supplies and visitors from a mainland base at San Francisco’s Pier forty. The Indians issued a call for contributions, and by the cease of 1969, canned appurtenances, wearing apparel and thousands of dollars in greenbacks had poured in from donors across the country. Celebrities including Anthony Quinn, Jane Fonda and Merv Griffin all visited the island and lent their support, and the rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival even gave the Indians a boat, which was christened the “Clearwater.”

For virtually of late-1969, the occupation proceeded better than activists like Richard Oakes could accept ever imagined. By early on 1970, however, life on the isle had begun to alter. Many of the movement’due south college students and organizers had to leave Alcatraz to render to school, and they were often replaced by vagrants who cared more than almost living rent gratuitous than fighting for the protest’s original cause. “Our biggest problems are freelance photographers and the hippies,” Oakes said at the time. “They stay and swallow upward our stores, so leave. Then we have to make clean upward after them.” Drugs and alcohol—both originally banned on the isle—were presently circulating freely amid certain members of the population.

alcatraz takeover

Credit: Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The leadership crisis only worsened afterward Richard Oakes’ young stepdaughter fell to her death from i of the prison’s stairwells in January 1970. Oakes and his married woman left Alcatraz in the wake of the blow, leaving groups of warring activists to fight it out for control of the island. Past May, the government had concluded that at that place was little promise of resolving the state of affairs diplomatically, and the Nixon administration cutting all remaining power to Alcatraz in an effort to force the Indians out. Only a few weeks later, a fire tore across the island and destroyed several of Alcatraz’southward celebrated buildings. The Indians claimed the blaze was an accident or peradventure fifty-fifty the piece of work of exterior provocateurs, but it still came as a major accident to morale.

Despite increasingly squalid living conditions and flagging exterior back up, a few holdouts continued to live on the Rock for some other year. “I don’t want to say Alcatraz is done with,” former occupier Adam Fortunate Eagle lamented to
The San Francisco Chronicle
in April 1971, “only no organized Indian groups are agile there. It has turned from an Indian movement to a personality matter.” Citing a need to restore Alcatraz’s foghorn and lighthouse, government officials finally quashed the occupation on June 11, 1971, when armed federal marshals descended on the island and removed the last of its Indian residents. By then, the occupation force had dwindled to a skeleton crew of but six men, five women and four children.

While the terminal of protestors were forced to get out the island in defeat, the 19-month occupation had succeeded in galvanizing Indian activists. Indian rights organizations—many of them staffed past Alcatraz veterans—afterwards staged occupations and protests at Plymouth Rock, Mount Rushmore, the Agency of Indian Affairs and dozens of other sites across the land. Federal officials also started listening to calls for Indian cocky-conclusion. Fifty-fifty equally the Alcatraz protest was nonetheless underway in July 1970, President Richard Nixon had given a speech communication saying, “The time has come…for a new era in which the Indian futurity is determined by Indian acts and Indian decisions.” The U.Due south. government later returned millions of acres of ancestral Indian land and passed more than 50 legislative proposals supporting tribal self rule.

Alcatraz opened as a national park in 1973, where graffiti by its Native Americans occupiers tin still be seen on several of the complex’s buildings. The National Park Service even had some of the slogans preserved or repainted when they restored the isle’s water tower in 2012. The Rock has also continued to serve equally a focal indicate of Native American social campaigns. A pair of nationwide protest walks in 1978 and 1994 both began at the island, and since 1975, people accept met at Alcatraz every November for an “Un-Thanksgiving Day” celebrating Indian civilisation and activism.

American Indians Staged an Occupation in 1969