Published January 29, 2017
We only brought two gallons of coffee, two loaves of bread and big stack of bologna.”
— Ed Castillo (Luiseño-Cahuilla)
ALCATRAZ ISLAND – Several dozen American Indians, including alumni of the 1969 of the Alcatraz Occupation, gathered on the small island in the San Francisco Bay on Saturday, January 28, 2017, to remember the 19-month takeover.
Yesterday was the second gathering of the Alcatraz Occupation alumni. They were brought to Alcatraz Island at the invitation of the National Park Service.
In modern times, Alcatraz Island has become a symbol to American Indians. It is a symbol of both struggle and hope. The affinity American Indians has with Alcatraz Island runs deep.
“I was here a participant and a supporter in 1970. Today’s event is a historic commemoration of the start for the struggle for Indian people. It all started here at Alcatraz Island,” commented Lenny Foster (Navajo), who resides in St. Michaels, Arizona.
“The Alcatraz Occupation was made up of young people, students and people who lived here in the Bay Area. It made the whole country realize that treaty rights had to be honored. This event in the Indian movement proved to be historic. It opened our eyes and awareness in the effort to be self-determined. I came from Fort Collins, Colorado back then to join those here at Alcatraz. It was one of the most significant events of my life because I continue to work with the American Indian Movement and the International Treaty Council. I always respect those who stood and became part of the occupation of Alcatraz Island,” Foster told Native News Online.
“It’s great good to be here because of what Alcatraz Island because of what the occupation of Alcatraz represents. It was a catalyst to what is happening now at Standing Rock. The resistance goes from Alcatraz to Standing Rock,” said Red Dawn Foster (Navajo/Lakota) from Denver, Colorado. “It was great to be here with my father, Lenny Foster, who was here during the occupation.”
For years the island was home to a federal penitentiary there. After the prison closed in 1963, American Indians began to petition the federal government to put it into “Indian land.”
On November 20, 1969, 89 American Indians who called themselves Indians of All Tribes, took boats from San Francisco and took the island over to highlight poor federal policies towards American Indians. The occupation gained national attention.
“We only brought two gallons of coffee, two loaves of bread and big stack of bologna. We really thought we were going to be removed. Other groups of Indians had tried before we did and were immediately taken off the island. We had close to 100,” commented Ed Castillo (Luiseño-Cahuilla), an Alcatraz Occupation alumni who attended Saturday’s event.
“The government did not want to confront. Nixon refused to have us taken off. The reason was Nixon back when he was a student at Whittier College had a coach who was Luiseño Indian, the same tribe I am. So, Nixon was an ally and let us protest here.”
From November 1969 to July 1971, the group of American Indians took over and occupied Alcatraz Island led by Mohawk, Richard Oakes; Grace Thorpe, Sac and Fox, who was the daughter of Olympic great, Jim Thorpe and Tuscarora medicine man, Mad Bear Anderson. The group was called the Alcatraz Red Power Movement.
Throughout the occupation, numerous American Indians went to Alcatraz Island to participate in the occupation. Among them, several members of the American Indian Movement, including Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Clyde Bellecourt, went there. Another iconic name among American Indian leaders who went there was Wilma Mankiller, who later became principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Arthur Jacobs contributed to this article from San Francisco.
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