Story Time

August 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

I read something today that jogged my memory of something I learned about in college, and I figure this is an appropriate place to share.  Readers get ready, because today I’m going to tell you about how a group of Native Americans took over Alcatraz Island.

Yup, it's an island

If you’re older than me, you might actually remember some of this.  The Alcatraz penitentiary officially closed its doors on March 21, 1963.  It had been used to hold prisoners for 29 years but, as all good things must come to an end, wound up being declared surplus federal property in 1964.  What the government didn’t realize (or simply chose not to remember, as so often happened in matters like this) was that there was a treaty signed in 1868 between the US government and Sioux Indians stating that all land taken from the Sioux and used by the government would be returned if the land was retired, abandoned or out of use.  The Treaty of Fort Laramie was likely something that the government figured the Indians would forget about.  This was not the case.

Moving in

It started slowly, with a small group of Sioux men occupying the island for four hours in 1964.  In 1969, a group of five Native American men jumped from a passing boat, swam to shore and claimed the island by right of discovery.  The Coast Guard quickly took the men away but later that same day another, larger group did the same thing and fourteen of them stayed the whole night.  The next day Richard Oaks (the “leader”, if you will) wrote a proclamation claiming the island by right of discovery.  The group then left but 11 days later a group of 79 Native American men and women came back to stay.

The plan was to build a center for Native American Studies, an American Indian spiritual center, an ecology center, and an American Indian Museum.  Within a month, daily radio broadcasts were coming from the island, and in January 1970, occupiers began publishing a newsletter.  Interestingly, celebrities got in on the cause and Jane Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando and Jonathon Winters all visited and gave their support.  Creedence Clearwater Revival (yup, good ‘ol CCR) even donated $15,000 to get the island a boat.  Also, as a little tidbit for you, a young Benjamin Bratt was in the Occupation with his mother and siblings.

Sadly, the Occupation wasn’t meant to last.  Remember that “leader”, Richard Oaks?  His 13-year-old stepdaughter was

Pretty much says it all

involved in an accident which she did not survive, and the Oaks family left the island because it was too difficult to stay.  Some of the other original occupiers left to go to school and still others wound up with drug addictions.  Then in May of 1970, the government (yes, our government) shut off all electrical power and telephone service to the island.  There was a fire in June that destroyed many buildings and surviving without electricity or fresh water became rather difficult.  On June 11, 1971, a large force of government officers removed the remaining 15 people from the island.

While not the success they were originally envisioning, the Occupation did bring international attention to the situations that many Native Americans were facing and it also instigated over 200 instances of civil disobedience among groups of different tribes.  It helped the Native American civil rights movement and served as a reminder to our government that they can’t always break their promises.

So, did you know about this?  Until my Native American Studies class in college, I sure didn’t.  I was kind of blown away that I was never taught this in school, as it seems to be kind of a big deal for Native Americans.  I guess it’s not surprising though, given how much of their culture and history is glossed over or just plain rewritten in school textbooks.

(In my best Paul Harvey voice) And now you know…the rest of the story.

Also, here is the link to the Wikipedia page that I summarized in this here post.  Some of it came from memory of my college course, but seeing as how that was years ago, this really helped.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: