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Alcatraz is Not an Island
Reclaiming Native Land

Co-presented by:

The Landings, 1964 and 1969

The Alcatraz Proclamation
The Alcatraz Proclamation document
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.

- Indians of All Nations, The Alcatraz Proclamation to the Great White Father and His People

Photo: © Ilka Hartmann

Indian activists attempted to take over Alcatraz twice before the 1969 to 1971 occupation. In 1964, the island was closed and declared surplus federal property. On March 9 of that year, five Sioux Indians, led by Richard McKenzie, claimed the island under an 1868 treaty which entitled them to take possession of surplus federal land. They occupied Alcatraz for four hours, calling for the island's transformation into a cultural center and an Indian university.

The second landing, on November 9, 1969, was planned by Richard Oakes, a Mohawk Indian, and a group of 75 Native students and activists. None of the boats the students had arranged for showed up, but the press was there, so Oakes kept the media occupied while Adam Fortunate Eagle (Red Lake Chippewa) searched for transportation to the island. That day and throughout the occupation, the media embraced the charismatic Oakes as the group's spokesperson.

After Fortunate Eagle had convinced the owner and skipper of the Monte Cristo, a three-masted sailing ship, to circle the island, Oakes jumped overboard and swam 250 feet to shore. Jim Vaughn (Cherokee), Joe Bill (Eskimo), Ross Harden (Winnebago) and Jerry Hatch followed. When the swimmers reached the island, they claimed it by right of discovery, and soon were transported back to San Francisco by the Coast Guard. Later that evening, a group of 20 boarded a fishing boat and set out for the island again. Fourteen stayed overnight while the press and Coast Guard were notified. The next morning, reporters, who came over to the island with the General Services Administration (GSA), informed the occupiers that the Coast Guard was giving them a chance to leave the island peacefully. After Oakes presented the GSA with a proclamation claiming the island by right of discovery, the group returned to the mainland and no arrests were made.

video clip Find out what happened during the November 9 landing at Alcatraz from the people who were there.
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Reclaiming Native Land | Alcatraz | Indian Activism | Talkback | The Filmmakers
Resources | For Educators | Broadcast | ITVS

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