CALFORNIA — Last week American Indians re-occupied Alcatraz Island. November 20th marked the 50th anniversary of the take over of Alcatraz Island, creating the high water mark for the American Indian Movement in 1969.
For some of the older occupiers, it was like de-ja-vu, going back 50 years when they were young and full of vinegar proving at least some of the vinegar still remains, anyhow.
About 150 Native activists took boats to the island last Wednesday for three days of events marking the 1969 takeover.
The original occupation that triggered front page articles across the USA and Canada, was to demand the federal government recognize the long-standing agreements with tribes and turn over the deed to the island when it was no longer needed as a prison.
This action served as a lightning rod for dissatisfied Indigenous tribes and individuals on both sides of the invisible US/Canada boarder arbitrarily put in place following the American Revolutionary War.
The tribes represented had designs for the island to become a museum, school and cultural centre on the island but were denied.
The Native American protesters used an 1868 treaty between the U.S. and the Sioux to stake a claim to the land. The occupation lasted 19 months before internal squabbling fanned by government sponsored provocateur infiltrators caused the movement and the occupation to loosen the solidarity and in a weakened state, they were eventually overcome and disbursed with its leaders arrested by police.
The protests did not go away, though. In fact news across Indian Country spread and other protests began to pop up across Turtle Island (North America).
Eventually, the education of non-Native American through interviews and articles covering the occupation, spurred a shift in federal policy toward self-determination.
“It’s a day full of smiles, seeing all the people that we hadn’t seen — some I hadn’t seen in 50 years,” said 80-year-old Eloy Martinez, one of the original Alcatraz protesters. “I wish … indigenous people could all be here and see all these people here today making the statement that we’re still here, and we’re going to be here, and we’re still resisting, and we’re not quitting.”
Faded old painted wall signs left by the original occupiers were quickly freshened, declaring, “Indians Welcome,” “United Indian Property” and “Indian Land.”
“That’s why people came here — to protect our tribal nations, sovereignty, our traditions, our religion and our sacred medicine that keep our tribal nations powerful,” Turner said Dennis Turner, one of the 1969 occupiers returning to the island.
Although it was originally said the protest would last three-days, occupiers still remain as of this week.