You might have heard that Alcatraz was a place where the greatest criminals were held and that it was an U.S military prison in the past. Now it’s abandoned and a famous San Francisco landmark. Alcatraz has another historical event. This was the protest to seize Alcatraz for the Indigenous people.
In March 1963, Alcatraz was abandoned. Under the 1868 treaty, it stated that abandoned land should be returned to the original owner. Since Alcatraz was abandoned, 5 Sioux landed in Alcatraz in March 1964 to seize their territory. Unfortunately, that plan did not go well. “These early efforts all failed, but reclaiming “the Rock” became a rallying cry for Indians, many of whom viewed the island as a symbol of government indifference toward the Indigenous population.” quoted from History.com. This shows how this first protest was the inspiration for many Indigenous people to help gain back their land.
Even though the first attempt was unsuccessful, the indigenous people did not give up. On November 9,1969, a Mohawk college student, Richard Oakes, went to Alcatraz with a handful of protestors to stay there. They could only stay a night or the authorities would remove them. “ ‘If a one day occupation by white men on Indian land years ago established squatter’s rights,’ he told the San Francisco Chronicle, ‘then the one day occupation of Alcatraz should establish Indian rights to the island.’” quoted from history.com. This shows how the indigenous people will keep trying to gain something that was once stolen from them, Alcatraz. “The group offered the U.S. the same price for the land that the government had offered Native Americans in compensation for lands white settlers seized — 47 cents per acre. For Alcatraz, that was $5.64.” quoted from San Francisco Chronicle. This shows that the indigenous people will only pay how much it cost from 300 years ago since that was when their land got stolen.
On November 20, 1969, the Native Americans made their final attempt to seize Alcatraz. This time, the Native Americans did something different. “Ignoring warnings that their occupation was illegal, they moved into the old warden’s house and guards’ quarters and began personalizing the island with graffiti. A message appeared on the water tower reading: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” Other buildings were tagged with slogans like ‘Red Power’ and ‘Custer Had It Coming.’” quoted from History.com. This shows how the indigenous people were not going to leave Alcatraz this time until they got what they wanted. They stayed there for 19 months. Towards the end, people had to leave for their education and many people who moved to live at Alcatraz were there for free rent and food, not to help Indigenous people gain back their land. “ ‘Our biggest problems are freelance photographers and the hippies,’ Oakes said at the time. ‘They stay and eat up our stores, then leave. Then we have to clean up after them.’ Drugs and alcohol—both originally banned on the island—were soon circulating freely among certain members of the population.” quoted from History.com Another cause of people leaving Alcatraz was when Richard Oakes’ young stepdaughter fell to her death from one of the prison’s stairwells in January 1970 which caused Oakes and his wife to leave and groups of warring activist started to fight over the control of the land. By May 1970, the Nixon administration forced people out of the land which caused the end of the final attempt to seize Alcatraz.
Even though the indigenous people could not get Alcatraz, they still try to this day. “A pair of nationwide protest walks in 1978 and 1994 both began at the island, and since 1975, people have met at Alcatraz every November for an ‘Un-Thanksgiving Day’ celebrating Indian culture and activism.” quoted from history.com This shows that Un-Thanksgiving day is how indigenous people celebrate the survival of the indigenous peoples of the Americas following European colonization. This is just one event of how many indigenous people try to fight back for what has been taken from them.
Here are some websites you should visit to learn more about Indigenous people (Sources gathered from “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People” by Roxanne Bundar-Ortiz):
Created by the