In the Occupation of Alcatraz (1969-1971), Native Americans took over the island of Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, its infamous prison having been closed down some years before.
The Alcatraz Proclamation to the Great White Father and his People, 1969:
“We, the native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. …
“We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island 300 years ago. …
“We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of the land of their own to be held in trust . . . by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs . . . in perpetuity — for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down in the sea. We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our way of life — ways in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. …
“Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians. …”
On the island they wanted to set up:
- A Center for Native American Studies
- An American Indian Spiritual Center
- An Indian Center of Ecology
- A Great Indian Training School
- An American Indian museum
At first the press loved it. Tons of people gave donations. Native Americans from all over the continent came. Maybe as many as 15,000 were there at some point. Some came to show their support. Some came to stay, bringing even their children.
It was the beginning of the Red Power movement. This was in the wake of the civil rights movement and at the height of the protests against the Vietnam War.
President Nixon wanted to avoid an ugly showdown: the Indians were unarmed. He waited them out.
In time the press grew bored, the donations became fewer, and so did the Natives who remained on the island.
By June 1971, only 15 remained. The US government negotiated in bad faith and unexpectedly sent in US marshalls to remove them from the island.
That left a bitter taste, but the occupation had some lasting effects:
- Many Natives took interest and pride in their cultures again.
- It stopped the US government’s Termination policy of ending the remaining Indian reservations, the bits of land Indians still have.
- It led to the founding of D-Q University, a Native American university near Davis, California.
- Unthanksgiving Day (pictured below), still celebrated every year on Alcatraz by hundreds of Natives on the same day as Thanksgiving.
– Abagond, 2015.
- Welcome to Native American Heritage Month 2015
- Some who took part in the occupation
- “Manhattan was sold for $24”
- Doctrine of Discovery
- Black Power
- internalized racism
- Angel Island – another infamous island in San Francisco Bay