Alcatraz occupation

From Anarchy In Action
Alcatraz Island 01 Prison sign.jpg

In November 1969, eighty-nine indigenous people, calling themselves "Indians of All Tribes," occupied Alcatraz Island, the former site of a maximum security prison in the San Francisco Bay. The siege lasted nineteen months and had hundreds of occupiers at its peak. The Indians of All Tribes wanted to turn the site into a cultural center with a college and museum. They used the occupation to attract international attention to their grievances and demands. They offered to buy the site for $24 in beads and cloth, which is what settlers paid Indians for Manhattan. They said that the former prison site would make a perfect Indian reservation since it had lacked fresh water, fertile land, employment, and health care facilities.[1]

In the early months, hundreds of indigenous people joined the occupation and organized "a school that taught indigenous history and culture from their own perspective, without the racist propaganda that filled the textbooks of the government's schools."[2] Members of the American Indian Movement participated in the occupation.[3]

In the spring of 1970, the government cut off water and electricity. The number of occupiers declined, as did media attention. The government removed the last fifteen occupiers in June 1971.[4]

The occupation had a profound impact on indigenous politics and on the American counterculture. The Cherokee woman Wilma Mankiller visited the occupation many times and remarked: "For the first time, people were saying things I felt but hadn't known how to articulate. It was very liberating." The historian Colin Calloway writes, "The protests there brought Indians and their grievances to the attention of the world. Alcatraz served as a warning for the United States that Indian rights could no longer be ignored and became a symbol of hope for Indian people who realized that they need no longer suffer in silence."[5]

  1. Indians of All Tribes, "Alcatraz Proclamation and Letter," History is a Weapon, 1969, http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/alcatrazproclamationandletter.html.
  2. Peter Gelderloos, Anarchy Works.
  3. Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (New York: Viking Books, 1991), 37.
  4. Colin G. Calloway, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2012), 528.
  5. Calloway, First Peoples, 528.