Revolutionary(s) Of The Week
The American Indians Who Took Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island was a federal penitentiary in San Francisco that closed in 1963, made famous not only for the famous criminals it once housed, but from movies like, "Escape From Alcatraz".
But on November 20th, 1969, the islands image has a major makeover. On that day thousands of American Indians began an occupation that would last all the way to June 11th, 1971.
Over the course of the occupation, over 5600 American Indians of mixed backgrounds, including, Indian college activists, families with children, & others disenchanted with the United States goverments social, economic, & political neglect--took part. Some stayed for only one day, while others stayed the entire 18 months.
Richard Oakes, a Mohawk Indian from New York, became the occupiers spokesman. He proclaimed, " We hold The Rock", which became their motto. " The occupation of Alcatraz was about human rights. It was an effort to restore the dignity of the more than 554 American Indian nations in the United States."
23 year old John Trudell, a Santee Sioux from San Bernadino, California heard all about the occupation, packed a sleeping bag & headed off to San Francisco. He became the voice of 'Radio Free Alcatraz", a pirate radio station broadcasted from the island with the help of local stations. Because of him hitting the airwaves, boxes of food & money came in from all over, including from rock groups like the Grateful Dead & Creedance Clearwater Revival. Creedance held a concert on a boat off Alcatraz & then donated the boat.
For the first time in modern American history, the plight of the Native Americans was finally making headlines.
The American Indian Movement (AIM) visited the occupiers & soon started a series of their own occupations around the U.S. One of the many important outcomes of the taking of Alcatraz was the making of a powerful multi-tribal protest organization from AIM.
Through all the chaos & factionalism, the taking of Alcatraz resulted in major benefits for American Indians. There were at least 10 major policy & law shifts stemming from the takeover, including:
***Passage of the Indian Self Determination & Education Act
***Revision of the Johnson O'Malley Act to better educate Indians
***Passage of the Indian Financing Act & the Indian Health Act
***Creation of an Assistant Interior Secretary post for Indian Affairs
Even today Alcatraz is part of Native American culture. Every November since 1975 on what is called "Un-Thanksgiving Day", Indians gather on the island to honor the occupation.