Occupying, 1969 style

The website from where I took this image from has this caption:

A group of Native American Indians, part of the Indians of All Tribes Inc., occupying the former prison at Alcatraz Island, stand under graffiti welcoming Indian occupiers to United Indian Property on the dock of Alcatraz Island, San Fransico Bay, Ca., Nov. 25, 1969. The occupiers are demanding a visit by Secretary of the Interior to discuss possession of the surplus mid-bay property.

Part of the reason Native American chose to occupy Alcatraz:

The website from where I took the above image (of Hopi prisoners at Alcatraz in 1895) say this:

Nineteen members of the Hopi Tribe, called “Hostiles” by government agents, made up the largest group of Indian prisoners to be confined on Alcatraz. Their crimes were unique in the 140-year history of incarceration on the Rock: they wouldn’t farm in the ways the federal government instructed them, and they opposed the forced removal and education of their children in government boarding schools. Both “offenses” were part of widespread Indian resistance to U.S. policies designed to erase each tribe’s language and religion.

Did you catch that? Hopi Indians were prisoners at ALCATRAZ because they refused to give their children over to the US government for the government’s late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century Indian boarding schools. They refused the forced removal of their children so that the government could send them to military-style boarding schools (to which the children could go for 9, 10, 12 years before returning home and where a fair amount of Indian children).

Sometimes US history literally blows my mind.  This happened here. In the US. Hopi Indians sent to Alcatraz because they wouldn’t turn their children over to the US govt (before the government arrested Native Americans and sent them to federal prison, they simply withheld food and subsistence from them).

Here’s the history of the occupation of the island (from here):

October 9, 1969 – American Indian Center in San Francisco burns down. It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focuses Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for use as a new facility.

November 9, 1969 – Mohawk Indian Richard Oakes leads an attempt to occupy Alcatraz Island twice in one day. Fourteen Native Americans stay overnight and leave peacefully the following morning.

November 20, 1969 – The 19-month occupation of Alcatraz begins when approximately 80-90 American Indians – mostly college students – take over the island.

December 1969 – Members of the American Indian Movement, led by AIM co-founder Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Ojibwe), arrive at Alcatraz. After about two weeks, they return to Minneapolis bringing new ideas about confrontational activism and land seizure as a tool to confront the federal government’s Indian policies.

August 1970 – California governor Ronald Reagan announces a $50,000 planning grant to the Bay Area Native American Council for programs addressing the needs of urban Indians in the San Francisco Bay Area.

June 11, 1971 – The 15 remaining Alcatraz occupiers are escorted off the island by U.S. marshals and FBI agents, officially ending the 19-month, nine-day long occupation.

Great selection of photos from the occupation.

Alcatraz was just the beginning of the Indian Occupy movement (quote via):

Today, the Alcatraz occupation is recognized as the springboard for the rise of Indian activism that began in 1969 and continued into the late 1970s, as evidence by the large number of occupations that occurred shortly after the November 20, 1969 landing. These occupations continued through the BIA headquarters takeover in 1972, Wounded Knee II in 1973, and the June 26, 1975 shootout between American Indian Movement members and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Alcatraz was the catalyst for this new activism as it became more organized and more “pan-Indian.” Many of the approximately seventy-four occupations of federal facilities and private lands that followed Alcatraz were either planned by or included people who had been involved in the occupation of the island.


One thought on “Occupying, 1969 style

  1. Sometimes US history literally blows my mind. <—THIS. Which is why nearly every time someone tells me, "it could never happen," I rush back to my history library and find an instance of when it did. And it usually wasn't that long ago.

    I think something that blows my mind more frequently, even, is that so very many people aren't aware of so much U.S. History. It makes sense, it just…gah. How do people not know this stuff? At least in a "oh, yeah, I kind of remember learning about that in school" way.

    I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and one of my dad's favorite things to do, as I was growing up, was to drive us around and point to all the places that have gone down in history for some political, or social reason. Alcatraz was a big one. In good liberal, hippie, stick-it-to-the-man fashion, he got a kick out of the occupation, I think.

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