The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination

The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination

The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination

The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Red Power and Self-Determination

Synopsis

The occupation of Alcatraz Island by American Indians from November 20, 1969, through June 11, 1971, focused the attention of the world on Native Americans and helped develop pan-Indian activism. In this detailed examination of the takeover, Troy R. Johnson tells the story of those who organized the occupation and those who participated, some by living on the island and others by soliciting donations of money, food, water, clothing, and other necessities.
Johnson documents the unrest in the Bay Area urban Indian population that helped spur the takeover and draws on interviews with those involved to describe everyday life on Alcatraz during the nineteen-month occupation. In describing the federal government's reactions as Americans rallied in support of the Indians, he turns to federal government archives and Nixon administration files. The book is a must-read for historians and others interested in the civil rights era, Native American history, and contemporary American Indian issues.

Excerpt

Donald L. Fixico

Although Native Americans have been a popular topic among journalists for many years, only recently have scholars turned to serious studies of their cultures since World War II. Troy Johnson's work is one of the first to address the Indian militancy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. in his focus upon the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island, he makes it clear that this was one of the cornerstone events in modern Indian history. By using policy history, social history, political history, ethnohistory, and oral history, Johnson places the occupation within both Native American culture and the societal upheavals of the period.

For American Indians, the 1950s and 1960s provided a pivotal shift in their societies as the government relocation program was established to clear out the reservations. Indians volunteered or were coaxed into moving to cities across the United States until two-thirds of them were living in urban environments. Bewildered by their new surroundings, many turned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for help but were disappointed by broken promises. Cut off from their traditional cultures, Native Americans adapted by identifying themselves with American Indians as a whole instead of limiting themselves to tribal ties. As they began thinking of themselves in this new light, pan-Indian organizations developed and Native Americans started working together.

The occupation of Alcatraz was led by Indians in these organizations and grew out of the social movements and political turmoil of a troubled decade. Shattered dreams and recognition of continuing injustice with little hope for the future spurred protests, particularly by young people, against the “establishment.” As other groups spoke out about . . .

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