A faded message reading "Indians Welcome" can be seen on the walls of a building on Alcatraz Island. Photo: Tewy

Indians of All Tribes celebrates 50th anniversary of Alcatraz takeover

American Indians Celebrate the 50th Anniversary Takeover and Occupation of Alcatraz
Indians of All Tribes

SAN FRANCISCO, California -- Indians of All Tribes will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the historic takeover and occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. The event will be celebrated with four days of prayer, ceremony, speakers, and entertainment beginning November 20 through November 23, 2019, on Alcatraz Island in conjunction with the National Park Service.

The event is intended to bring together veterans of the occupation and to educate visitors to the island about the history and struggles of the American Indian. Led by student activists, Richard Oakes, from San Francisco State and LaNada WarJack from UC Berkeley, fourteen American Indian student activists initiated the takeover on November 9, 1969. On November 20, 1969, an additional eighty-nine Indian occupiers that included entire families, joined them on the island.

The activists relied on federal policy and a provision of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that authorized Indians to settle land unused by the federal government. Alcatraz, formerly a federal prison, was closed under the Kennedy administration in 1963; therefore, the unused land fell under the provision of the Treaty that provided for resettlement by Indians. The students seized the land not only as a political statement but a cultural one. They sought to develop an environmental and cultural center and a school that would allow them to teach native languages and customs to preserve the cultural heritage that had been denied them by government programs that practiced forced assimilation.

The 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz by the Indians of All Tribes will take place November 20-23, 2019.

The takeover and occupation, which attracted a ground swell of support from across the nation, lasted nineteen months ending on June 11, 1971. The activists asserted their resolve for self-determination. During this time, there was a marked increase of American Indian militancy across the nation that attracted the attention of President Nixon.

Nixon later signed fifty-two legislative measures to reform some of the grievances addressed by the protestors such as the Indian Termination Act of 1953, which ended federal recognition of Indian tribes, disbanded tribes, and allowed tribal land to be confiscated and sold. His successor, Gerald Ford, championed Nixon’s last piece of legislation, The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which was signed in 1975.

Today, Indians are fighting for a greater voice on the American political stage. Major issues such as the Keystone XL, which affect tribal sovereignty and water rights, are a serious environmental threat to tribal lands, and the ongoing disappearances of American Indian women continues to be a pervasive threat with no end in sight.

Everyone is invited to join the 50th Anniversary celebration, which will feature some of the original veterans of the takeover as speakers throughout the four-day event.

If you would like to support this event, volunteer, or obtain more information, please visit Indians of All Tribes on Facebook.

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