On November 20, 1969, 89 Native Americans headed by activist Richard Oakes took over Alcatraz. The Alcatraz Proclamation was published by the dissidents to broadcast their activity to the rest of the world. "We retake this island for our Indian nations in the name of all Indians," the declaration said. "We claim this island as our sacred land." The group demanded that the government return the island to its original inhabitants.
Alcatraz Island is a small island off the coast of San Francisco, California. It is part of the City and County of San Francisco. The island is known for its prison facility, which was opened in 1934 and closed by President Clinton in 2001. Today, Alcatraz hosts a major national park site that receives more than five million visitors per year.
The Alcatraz Proclamation was written by Richard Oakes, who organized the takeover along with Anna Mae Aquash and Vincent Harding. Oakes was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a group that protested against the presence of white settlers on Indian lands. AIM had staged several protests on Alcatraz before the invasion, including an attack on a federal building in 1968 that left three people dead. During the invasion, Oakes told reporters that the prisoners were "not criminals but political prisoners". They had been arrested for protecting their rights under the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was passed into law following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that year.
The Alcatraz Occupation (November 20, 1969–June 11, 1971) was a 19-month-long protest in which 89 American Indians and sympathizers seized Alcatraz Island. Richard Oakes, LaNada Means, and others led the demonstration, with John Trudell serving as spokesman. The protesters demanded their rights as Native Americans be recognized by the federal government and that they be given an opportunity to develop a tribal community on the island.
During their occupation, the activists set up camp on the island and conducted classes, meetings, and other events while acting as caretakers of the land. In addition, they prevented workers from repairing damage done by vandals and trespassers and cut the water supply line. Faced with starvation tactics, the protest ended when the government agreed to meet many of their demands.
It is part of the Bay Area National Wildlife Refuge. At one time, it was home to a prison population of about 200 men and women. Today, it is a popular tourist destination.
In 1604, Spanish explorer Juan de Ayala named the island "La Isla del Rey en El Pacífico" ("The Island of the King in the Pacific"). In 1775, the British captured the island from the Spanish during the American Revolutionary War and renamed it "Bloody Island".
The Alcatraz Proclamation addresses the US government—and, more broadly, the history of white settlers—with demands based on historical precedents and to draw attention to the conditions Indians live in, using language developed during the Indian Tribes' occupation of Alcatraz from November 1969 to June 1971. The demands include the following:
1. That the federal government return the island to its original inhabitants, the San Francisco Bay Tribe, for use as a national park or wildlife refuge.
2. That when the federal government takes actions that are harmful to Indians, it makes good any damage done to them by those actions.
3. That the federal government pass laws that provide justice for Indians.
4. That the federal government stop treating Indians as if they were less than human.
5. That the federal government stop taking land away from Indians without paying them for it.
6. That the federal government stop treating illnesses that many Indians have been afflicted with since birth as mental disorders.
7. That the federal government stop interfering with Indians' efforts to control non-Indian fishing within their territories.
8. That the federal government stop blocking Indians from exercising their rights under tribal law.
9. That the federal government stop harassing Indians who seek compensation for lands taken from them.
The Alcatraz Occupation (November 20, 1969–June 11, 1971) was a nineteen-month-long protest in which 89 American Indians and their sympathizers seized Alcatraz Island. The occupation ended when federal officials agreed to meet certain demands of the protesters.
Alcatraz Island is part of the City and County of San Francisco. The protest began on November 20, 1969, when fourteen Indians from across the country arrived at Alcatraz Federal Prison Camp to begin a mission to protect Native Americans' rights by occupying the island prison. Over the next year, more than 100 supporters joined them on the island until U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell announced that the prisoners would be released if they surrendered by June 11, 1970.
People around the world supported the protesters. Students organized "Indians on Alcatraz" rallies on school campuses across the United States. Artists created posters and drawings to raise awareness about the occupation. Music bands such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Santana performed at protest events on the mainland and on the island itself.
After the release of the prisoners, many of them continued to support the Indian movement by helping to form new groups and attending meetings and ceremonies with their supporters. Some returned to Alcatraz to renew the protest, but most stayed off the island because they did not want to be arrested again.
The Alcatraz Occupation had a brief impact on federal Indian Termination policy and created a precedent for Indian protest. Oakes was assassinated in 1972, and the American Indian Movement was afterwards targeted in COINTELPRO activities by the federal government and the FBI. The occupation also influenced musicians, artists, and activists across America who were inspired by its principles and wanted to show their support.
The Alcatraz Island Occupation is considered one of the most significant events in Native American history because it brought together Indians from all over the country who were there to protest against the termination of their programs by President Nixon. The protest helped to bring about a change in federal policy towards Indians.
There have been many attempts over the years to remove Indians from their land, but nothing has worked as well as the termination policy. It was designed to force tribes to give up their lands or lose their federal funding. Between 1973 and 1975, Congress passed three laws that terminated all federal assistance to Indian tribes, including health care and education. These measures included a provision that required the federal government to buy out the interests of tribal landowners at $10,000 per acre.
The termination of funds followed Oakes's assassination because he was going to be the main speaker at the occupation.
Alcatraz Occupation The occupation of Alcatraz Island by 89 American Indians and sympathizers headed by Richard Oakes, LaNada Means, and others was known as the Occupation of Alcatraz. They adopted the name Indians of All Tribes (IOAT), and John Trudell served as the organization's spokesperson. According to the IOAT, the Fort Laramie Treaty (1868), which extinguished Indian claims to land in Wyoming, did not include Alcatraz because it was claimed under federal sovereignty. The occupiers argued that since nothing had been done to eject them from their homes on the island, they were not subject to treaty provisions requiring negotiations with tribal leaders before settlements could be made.
The occupation ended on March 31, 1969 after the United States Department of the Interior agreed to negotiate with the Indians about their future plans for Alcatraz. These negotiations led to the establishment of the San Francisco National Indian Museum and Cultural Center on the mainland near Sacramento. The museum opened its doors to the public in October 1970. Its mission is "to collect, preserve, and display ethnographic and other material evidence of Native Americans throughout the Americas."
During their occupation of Alcatraz, the Indians set fire to a building on the island to protest government inaction on environmental issues. However, a wind shift caused the fire to spread rapidly, destroying most of the buildings on the island except for the main prison structure. The government accused the Indians of starting the fire as a way to clear land for agricultural use without having to pay rent.