Alcatraz 50: California urged Congress to turn over Alcatraz to Indians

Indian Country Today is republishing reports from The Associated Press as part of the occupation’s 50th anniversary

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Nov. 20, 1969, dozens of Native Americans took over Alcatraz in the San Francisco Bay to demand the federal government recognize long-standing agreements with tribes and turn over the deed to the island.

They arrived under the cover of night and vowed to peacefully protest federal policies that sought to eliminate tribes’ culture and language, and strip them of their land.

The U.S. government had declared Alcatraz, the site of a former maximum-security prison, surplus property several years earlier. Native Americans used an 1868 treaty between the U.S. and the Sioux to stake a claim to the land.

Although the 19-month occupation ended with occupiers being forcibly removed, it served as a watershed moment in Native American activism.

Tribes did not get a museum, school and cultural center on the island like they wanted. But the occupation galvanized activists, raised awareness of social conditions on reservations and spurred a shift in federal policy toward self-determination.

“It created a spark,” said historian Kent Blansett, who has written about Alcatraz. “We have a long way to go in this country before we get to the point of equality for indigenous people.”

The Associated Press is republishing reports from Nov. 21, 1969, to June 13, 1971, as part of its coverage of the occupation’s 50 anniversary.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 6, 1970. — The California Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution yesterday calling on Congress to turn Alcatraz Island over to the Indians.

A group of Indians had occupied the former federal prison last Nov. 20 demanding that the federal government turn it over to them as an Indian educational and cultural center.

The resolution sponsored by Assembly Democratic leader Jesse Unruh was approved 52-0. Legislators has jammed the committee room in hopes of getting a glimpse of actress Jane Fonda, who was trying to help push the resolution through the committee. 

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Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the occupation of Alcatraz.

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