November 20th 1969: Occupation of Alcatraz begins
On this day in 1969, the occupation of Alcatraz in San Francisco by the Indians of All Tribes movement began. The occupation lasted for nineteen months, ending on June 11th 1971. Inspired by wider civil rights efforts in the 1960s, the Red Power movement advocated the cause of American Indians. Activists argued that Alcatraz island, site of a disused penitentiary, belonged to indigenous Americans by an 1868 treaty between the US government and Sioux. A small group first occupied the island, for only four hours, on March 8th 1964; they offered to pay the government the same as was offered the Sioux - just under $10 for the whole island. However, the long-term occupation did not begin until November 20th 1969 when fourteen activists (79 tried to get to the island but were blocked by the Coast Guard) took the island. They intended to reclaim the island and establish Native American museums and research centres. Supporters brought food and supplies to the occupiers and some joined the group, with 400 protestors at the occupation’s height. Public support for the occupation eventually dwindled and protestors began to leave, allowing the government to come in and remove the remaining fifteen protestors. While immediately unsuccessful, the occupation of Alcatraz helped draw international attention to the situation of American Indians and promoted the rise of indigenous activism. Between 1970 and 1971, the Nixon administration increased funding for Indian health care and scholarships. The occupation of Alcatraz is commemorated today with the island’s ‘Unthanksgiving Day’ which celebrates the rights of indigenous Americans.