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Timeline / Renewing Native Ways / 1969: ‘Indians of All Tribes’ group occupies Alcatraz Island

1969: ‘Indians of All Tribes’ group occupies Alcatraz Island

A group of 78 Indians calling themselves Indians of All Tribes lands on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay and begins to occupy it in a demonstration for the rights of American Indians. Indians of All Tribes draws on powerful historic precedents of Native peoples taking a stand for the return of illegally taken lands, and they also usher in a new activist movement that draws attention with its mix of radicalism and American Indian traditionalism.

“We moved onto Alcatraz Island because we feel that Indian people need a cultural center of their own. For several decades, Indian people have not had enough control of training their young people. And without a cultural center of their own, we are afraid that the old Indian ways may be lost. We believe that the only way to keep them alive is for Indian people to do it themselves.” —Letter from Indians of All Tribes, December 16, 1969

Land and Water, Native Rights

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Belvia Cottier, Sioux, and a young friend on Alcatraz, May 31, 1970. Cottier assisted in the planning of the 1964 and 1969 occupations of Alcatraz Island.

Courtesy Ilka Hartmann 2011

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Poster stating that the U.S. government has forcibly taken back—“ripped off”—Alcatraz Island. “Hoka Hay!!” translates roughly as “It is Over.” The poster appeared in Berkeley, California on June 12, 1971, the morning after the removal of remaining occupiers from the island.

Courtesy Ilka Hartmann 2011

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Overcoming exhaustion and disillusionment, Atha Rider Whitemankiller, Cherokee, stands before the press at the Senator Hotel in San Francisco after the removal of the last Indian occupiers from Alcatraz on June 11, 1971. His eloquent words about the purpose of the occupation of Alcatraz Island—to publicize his people’s plight and establish a land base for the Indians of the Bay Area—were the most quoted of the day.

Courtesy Ilka Hartmann 2011

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Alcatraz under Native American occupation, May 1970

Courtesy Ilka Hartmann 2011

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"Proclamation to the Great White Father and his People" from Indians of All Tribes, November, 1969

Courtesy Ilka Hartmann 2011

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Klamath River Hurok chief, Tim Williams, addressing crowd prior to Indian take-over of Alcatraz Island, 1969

Courtesy Getty Images

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Members of the Indians of All Tribes group, occupying the former prison at Alcatraz Island, 1969

Courtesy Associated Press