On November 20, 1969 a ragtag group of Indian college students embarked on a journey to Alcatraz Island, home of the notorious and now abandoned federal penitentiary, occupying it for a period of 19 months as an act of distinctly Native American resistance and protest until June 11, 1971. According to the occupying group, the IAT (Indians of All Tribes), the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Sioux stated that all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land was to be returned to the Native people from whom it was acquired. Since Alcatraz penitentiary had been closed on March 21, 1963, and the island had been declared surplus federal property in 1964, a number of Red Power activists felt the island qualified for a reclamation. Despite an attempted Coast Guard blockade, the island was taken en mass by unarmed students and families from all over Indian country. In all, 79 Indians took up residence on Alcatraz included including students, married couples and six children. At the height of the occupation there were 400 people on the Island.
The protesters were publicly offering the federal government the same amount for the land that the government had initially offered them; at 47 cents per acre, this amounted to $9.40 for the entire rocky island, or $5.64 for the twelve usable acres. The plan was to reclaim the island for natives and create a university and cultural center. Organizer Richard Oakes sent a message to the San Francisco Department of the Interior:
“We invite the United States to acknowledge the justice of our claim. The choice now lies with the leaders of the American government - to use violence upon us as before to remove us from our Great Spirit’s land, or to institute a real change in its dealing with the American Indian. We do not fear your threat to charge us with crimes on our land. We and all other oppressed peoples would welcome spectacle of proof before the world of your title by genocide. Nevertheless, we seek peace.” #destroytheday