A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

Proclamation (1969)
Indians of All Tribes

In November 1969, a small group of activists from the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied Alcatraz Island, the former site of Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay. By the end of the month almost four hundred Native Americans had taken up residency on Alcatraz. In their “Proclamation,” the occupiers, calling themselves “Indians of All Tribes,” claimed Alcatraz for all American Indians and offered to sell it back to the government for twenty-four dollars’ worth of glass beads and some red cloth—a reference to the legendary “sale” of Manhattan Island to European settlers almost three centuries before. The Proclamation’s initial pointed sarcasm gives way in the second half of the document to thoughtful proposals for establishing a variety of Indian institutes on Alcatraz Island. The government adopted a hands-off policy and attempted to outwait the activists. Finally, in June 1971, U.S. marshals and FBI agents removed the remaining fifteen occupiers from Alcatraz.

The occupation of Alcatraz was a major watershed in the development of American Indian activism. Before Alcatraz, protest tended to be tribally based and concerned with specific, local issues. Alcatraz signaled the consolidation of a “pan-Indian” approach to activism, as members of different tribes and nations placed their “Indian” identity over significant differences in cultural practices and beliefs, tribal organization, and geography. Though the Alcatraz occupation did not succeed in reclaiming Alcatraz Island for native peoples, it drew national attention to the broken promises and flawed policies of the federal government and inspired participants and supporters to a revitalized sense of purpose.

The movement that consolidated in the wake of the Alcatraz occupation was clearly influenced by the African American movements that preceded it; that is evident even in the use of the slogan, “Red Power.” But it is useful to consider the similarities and differences between the two movements. How does this “Proclamation” by Indians of All Tribes differ from the Black Panthers’ Platform? How much do the different histories of African Americans and Native Americans shape their respective movements, and how much are they shaped by the era in which they both emerged?

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