Nov 20, 2016

Thanksgiving Spotlight: Tonight We Take Alcatraz, Un-thank You Very Much!

Alcatraz Island

November 20, 1969, eighty nine American Indians (who called themselves Indians of All Tribes or IOAT) landed on and claimed Alcatraz Island for themselves in what is now called The Occupation of Alcatraz.

According to the IOAT, the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) between the U.S. and the Lakota, states all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land was to be returned to the Native people from whom it was stolen (The treaty and it's implications has been speculated on and argued over from both sides). Since Alcatraz penitentiary had been closed since 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. The Alcatraz Occupation lasted for a total of nineteen months, until June 11, 1971, before the occupants were forcibly removed by the U.S. government.

The Occupation began strong with sympathy for the IOAT from the general public, with sporadic cameos by celebrities such as Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, and Jonathan Winters. Creedence Clearwater Revival even donated a $15,000 boat for use of bringing supplies to the Occupants.

Initially the Occupants offered to pay the federal government $9.40 for the entire island (roughly the same amount per acre that the government had initially offered at the Treaty of Fort Laramie), but over the course of a year negotiations had crumbled. Rumors of drug use helped deteriorate national sympathy, and morale had been all but crushed when a13 year old daughter of two occupants was killed in an accident.

Nearly 10 years after the Occupation of Alcatraz (On June 30, 1980) the United States Supreme Court ruled that the government had illegally taken the land covered by the Treaty of Fort Laramie and awarded the Lakota $15.5 million for the market value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years of a 5% interest, for a total of  $120 million. The Lakota Sioux refused to accept payment on the grounds that it would constitute a sales transaction, when in fact the land was taken from them.
The money was put in a trust for the Lakota but they have never taken a dime. The trust has now grown past $1.5 Billion.

The Occupation of Alcatraz is still recognized as a pivoting moment for Native American rights, and on Thanksgiving Day every year a public sunrise ceremony called Un-Thanksgiving is celebrated on Alcatraz Island.