Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Occupation of Alcatraz

Alcatraz: facts and figures
I received the postcard "Alcatraz: facts and figures" as a thank-you-card. Like most people, I associate the Alcatraz with its federal prison years from 1934 to 1963 when some of the nation’s most notorious criminals were held in the island. Therefore, when I read "November 20, 1969 - June 11, 1971: Native Americans occupy Alcatraz", I became curious about what happened forty two years ago before the U.S. Government forcibly removed the last holdouts to the Native American Occupation of Alcatraz on June 11, 1971 that lasted 19 months.

Citing the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux, Indians of All Tribes (IAT) claimed the island after the Alcatraz prison was closed in 1963 and the U.S. government declared the island as surplus federal property, since the treaty returned all retired, abandoned and out-of use federal lands to the Native Americans. 

After two brief occupations on March 9, 1964 and on November 9, 1969 by different groups, American Indians again landed on Alcatraz on November 20, 1969 and issued the Alcatraz Proclamation. The stated purpose of the occupation was to re-gain Indian control over the island to building a Native American Studies Center, an American Indian Spiritual Center, an Ecology Center, and an American Indian Museum. The occupiers cited treatment under the Indian Termination policy as the reason for occupation, and accused the U.S. government of breaking numerous Indian treaties. Daily radio program broadcast started from the island in December, 1969; newsletters were published starting January 1970.

However, the occupation started to collapse after a series of incidents of an accidental death, a fire, presence of drug addicted people, presence of non-American Indian people, departure of student participants, and leadership in-fights. Meanwhile, the government had cut off all electrical power and telephone service. Public sympathy and support had eroded. On June 11, 1971, a large force of federal marshals, GSA Special Forces, Coast Guard and FBI agents removed the last 15 people - six men, four women and five children - from Alcatraz with no resistance.

In spite of the controversies, the Occupation of Alcatraz brought international spotlight on the plight of Native Americans and sparked off a wave of more than 200 civil disobedience among Native Americans. It was the dawn of the modern day Native American activism and it was the first inter-tribe event to connect young Native American activists from dozens of tribes.

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