As we approach Thanksgiving, it behooves us to remember the 50th anniversary of the nineteen-month occupation of Alcatraz by the Native American group, Indians of All Tribes (IOAT). Ten thousand years before Americans of European descent spread across what is now known as the United States of America, Alcatraz had been continuously used as a camp and hunting ground. When Alcatraz was about to be declared “surplus” in 1970, Native Americans demanded its return according to the terms under the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.
The Native American occupation began on November 20th, 1969 with 89 women, men, and children. As the protest progressed, the number swelled to as many as 600 occupants. Among the original leaders and organizers were college student Richard Oakes—Mohawk, Berkley’s Native American Student organization leader LaNada Means—Shashone Bannock, and poet, Vietnam Navy veteran, activist John Trudell—Santee Dakota.