99. What was the Indian Occupation?
In March of 1964, one year after Alcatraz closed, a small group of Sioux occupied
Alcatraz for a few hours, leaving after announcing their demands for an Indian
cultural center. On November 9, 1969, Indians returned, briefly, to claim the
island in the name of Indians of all tribes.
Then, on November 20, 1969, a group called "Indians of All Tribes" began a
19-month occupation of Alcatraz, with dreams of turning the island into a
university and cultural center.
But just like the military operations and the prisons on Alcatraz had problems
coping with the expense of functioning on an island, the Indian Occupation faced
shortages of money and supplies.
Over a year and a half period, more than 20,000 people made their way to
Alcatraz. Many of these folks were Indians, some were not. On the night of June 1,
1970, fires broke out that damaged several buildings on Alcatraz Island, including
the Officers Club and the Warden's Residence. Since water service to the island
had been stopped, there was no way to extinguish the blazes.
Concerns about vandalism and looting on Alcatraz Island led the federal
government to end the Indian occupation on June 11, 1971.
Today, many of those who study the American Indian movement believe that the
Indian Occupation of Alcatraz was a milestone in the cause of human rights for
Native American Indians. It has been pointed out that, among other positive
outcomes for Native Americans, the publicity surrounding this high-profile
occupation contributed to public support for the establishment of a cultural
center and university for the Native American Indian people.
100. Why did the Indians choose Alcatraz for their protest?
First, Alcatraz was chosen for its symbolic meaning-it was a place where people
were taken to be isolated and for-gotten about, much like the movement's
organizers believed the Indian people had been. Certainly the high-profile name
recognition held by Alcatraz made it a good choice from a publicity standpoint.
Also, supporters of the Indian movement pointed to a Sioux treaty with the
United States that gave surplus federal property to Indians. Alcatraz Island had
been sitting there, empty, for more than six years.
101. Are the Indians responsible for all of the damage, graffiti
and piles of rubble on the Parade Ground?
No. Beyond the provocative changes in signage-some of which remain as cultural
resources to help the National Park Service interpret this period of Alcatraz
history-the leaders had no intent to damage the island. There were 20,000 people
on the island during that period, some were Indians and some were not. The
Alcatraz Indian Council denied all charges that it was responsible for any damage
on Alcatraz. Others suggested agents-provocateur.
We do know who demolished those buildings down on the parade ground. After
the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz ended, the General Services Administration
demolished the large apartment buildings on the parade ground to prevent them
from being occupied again, creating the rubble piles we see today.