20 November 1969

Occupation of Alcatraz: Native American activists seize control of Alcatraz Island until being ousted by the U.S. Government on June 11, 1971.

The Occupation of Alcatraz in 1971 was a significant event in Native American activism and the broader civil rights movement. On November 20, 1969, a group of Native American activists, calling themselves the Indians of All Tribes (IOAT), occupied the abandoned Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, which was the site of the notorious Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.

The activists, led by individuals such as Richard Oakes, LaNada Means, and John Trudell, claimed that the occupation was a symbolic act to reclaim land that was rightfully theirs under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), which stated that surplus federal land would be returned to Native tribes. The Alcatraz Island had been declared surplus federal property in 1964.

The occupiers argued that the federal government should honor the treaty and turn the island into a center for Native American studies, cultural preservation, and community development. They believed that the unused federal land could be repurposed for the betterment of Native American communities.

The occupation garnered widespread attention and support, both from Native Americans across the country and from various activists sympathetic to their cause. The activists faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather conditions, lack of sanitation facilities, and legal actions taken by the federal government to remove them from the island.

Over time, the occupation brought attention to the broader issues faced by Native American communities, such as land rights, cultural preservation, and socioeconomic challenges. Although the occupation of Alcatraz ultimately ended in June 1971, it is often considered a pivotal moment in Native American activism, paving the way for future protests and movements advocating for indigenous rights and recognition.