Occupation of Alcatraz Island Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Nov 20 1969

Location: 

San Francisco CA

The beacon flashed incessantly. On. Off. On again.

Like some sort of traffic light gone crazy, it pierced the thick nighttime mist hovering over San Francisco Bay. The light sent a message five miles across the dark waters from Ghirardelli Square to Alcatraz Island. There, cheers erupted as the light flashed the words, "Go Indians!"

It was the autumn of 1969. Thousands of American Indians occupied the abandoned remains of Alcatraz, the federal penitentiary that housed America's most notorious criminals until closing in 1963.

The occupiers held the island for nearly eighteen months, from Nov. 20, 1969, until June 11, 1971, reclaiming it as Indian land and demanding fairness and respect for Indian peoples. They were an unlikely mix of Indian college activists, families with children fresh off reservations and urban dwellers disenchanted with what they called the U.S. government's economic, social and political neglect.

Among other acts of creative resistance on Alcatraz Island, they wrote and delivered a public proclamation that read:

Proclamation to the Great White Father and All His People

We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.

We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty:

We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars ($24) in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these 16 acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years. Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47¢ per acre that the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land. We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian Affairs [sic] and by the bureau of Caucasian Affairs to hold in perpetuity—for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. We offer this treaty in good faith and wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with all white men.

We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man's own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:

1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.

2. It has no fresh running water.

3. It has inadequate sanitation facilities.

4. There are no oil or mineral rights.

5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.

6. There are no health care facilities.

7. The soil is rocky and non-productive; and the land does not support game.

8. There are no educational facilities.

9. The population has always exceeded the land base.

10. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.

Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.

Posted by srduncombe on