Native American: Occupation of Alcatraz

Nailah Johnson, Bernard Little, Christian Kuhn


Occupation of Alcatraz was the most pertinent Indian movement in history. The movement began with the Treaty of Fort Laramie being broken by the U.S. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was an agreement guaranteeing Indians the right to their land. Unfortunately, the U.S. federal laws went against this agreement and decided to take the aboriginal land from the American Indians. The U.S. government were aiming to destroy American Indian culture. The American Indians decided to retaliate and take action into getting their land back. A number of Red Power activist protested in regaining Alcatraz Island back from the U.S. government. The group of Indians stayed on the island, occupying and refusing to leave, until they got their rightful property back. The occupation lasted for nineteen months, from November 20, 1969, to June 11, 1971, but was forcibly ended by the U.S.

The specific events that occurred at Alcatraz, an island that formerly served as a prison, began on November 20, 1969. The morning of that day 79 Native Americans, constituted of mostly students, set off on a boat to occupy Alcatraz with the purpose of setting up a demonstration seeking acknowledgment by the federal government for violated treaties. As this first group of 79 approached the island; they were intercepted by a blockade set up by the coast guard. Despite this blockade 14 of the 79 still managed to make it on the island. Numerous other ones followed this initial group of demonstrators and at the height of the protest over 400 people occupied the island. Some key figures within this movement include Richard Oakes and John Trudell. Richard Oakes was key in the organizing of resources about the island, as people were living on an abandoned island for a long-term period. Richard Oakes was one of those responsible for helping to ensure daily activities on the island were taken care of. John Trudell was the man who was known as the “Voice of Alcatraz,” he helped to express the disgruntled sentiments of the Native Americans toward the U.S. government. This nugget within history is an important example of activism because of the impact on public perception of Native Americans as a group of sovereign people and the fact that the movement was very successful as a whole.

This event was very important to regaining Native American rights. It brought a lot of the issues that the Native Americans were facing to the attention of the Nixon Administration. After the occupation, the government ended its policy for termination. The termination policy aimed to get rid of all tribes and forms of self governing of Native Americans. Fifty-two legislative proposals were passed for self-rule, allowing the Native Americans to regain a self of identity. This allowed them to have a government and decide the fate of there own people. The funds for Native American scholarships increased by $848,000 and funds doubled for Native American health care.

This also fueled the rise of activism within the Native American community. After this, many young Native Americans felt like they could do something and make a difference. This occupation inspired the AIM, a group of young activist Native Americans. This group went on to occupy other federal facilities across the United States. Many other celebrities got on board with Native American activism like like Jane Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, Jonathan Winters, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Dick Gregory.

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