First_and Second Occupation

American Indian Occuaption of Alcatraz


"Mayday! Mayday! The Indians have landed!"
~ Alcatraz security gaurd

Long before Alcatraz Island became a federal prison, the island belonged to the Ohlone tribe from the San Francisco Bay area. In the mid-1800s, the US military seized Alcatraz Island from the Indians. In 1909, Alcatraz became a prison nicknamed “The Rock.” 

In 1963, the federal government closed Alcatraz because of prohibitive costs and the Bay Area Indian community saw an opportunity to take the island back and take a stand.

(Source) Alcatraz History

The First Occupation

 On March 8, 1964, five Indians, along with their attorney and reporters, took a boat to invade Alcatraz. ​​​​​​​

Occupiers arrive on Alcatraz (Source) San Francisco Chronicle 

Occupiers claiming control (Source) San Francisco Chronicle

 (Source) San Francisco Chronicle

Treaty of Fort Laramie (Source) Partnership with Native Americans

Article 6 of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie served as evidence for the Indian claim of Alcatraz. It stated, "land which is not mineral land, nor reserved by the United States for any special purpose other than Indian occupation." Furthermore, American Indian men above the age of 18 "shall be entitled to receive from the United States a patent" on rights to the land. The Indians interpreted the treaty as land not in use by the federal government would be returned to the Indians. 

Although the occupation only lasted 3 hours, it was critical to future invasions because it articulated the Indians demands, including full control of Alcatraz, transformation into an Indian Cultural Center, university or spiritual center, environmental center and museum, funded by the government. It also broke the barrier of silence as Native Americans felt empowered to be heard.

Occupiers performing cultural dance (Source) San Francisco Chronicle 

 (Source) San Francisco Chronicle

 Occupiers leave Alcatraz.​​ (Source) San Francisco Chronicle

The Second Occupation

"We might — might — just wake up the conscience of America."
~ Richard Oakes

On November 10, 1969, 14 Indians, mostly college students, led by activist Richard Oakes, would try again after the San Francisco American Indian Center burned down. The group called themselves the Indians of All Tribes, as the group was diverse in tribal affiliation. They were forced to leave after 19 hours but were determined to return.

Occupiers roam around Alcatraz (Source) San Francisco Chronicle 

 Occupiers forced to leave by Coast Guard (Source) San Francisco Chronicle

Document released to public after Indian center burned down. (Source) National Park Service ​​​​​​​