The Indian Occupation Movement
Indian unity was a key focus of the Indian movement, and there were plans to establish an American Indian cultural center on Alcatraz. One of the most inspirational occupiers was Richard Oakes, a young Mohawk student described as handsome, charismatic, and a talented orator. The media often sought him out and identified Oakes as the leader, the Chief, or the mayor of Alcatraz. Tragedy struck in early 1970 when his young step-daughter Yvonne was killed in a fall on the Island. Richard Oakes left shortly after and the Occupation began to lose momentum.
For eighteen months, American Indians and their families lived on the Island. However, public interest in the occupation waned, and order among those living on the Island began to deteriorate. Federal marshals removed the remaining occupiers from the Island in June 1971.
The Alcatraz Occupation is now recognized as a milestone in American Indian history. Many Indian people now consider the seizure of Alcatraz to have been a new beginning, a reawakening of American Indian culture, traditions, identity and spirituality.
Each year, Indians of all tribes return to Alcatraz Island on Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day to hold a Sunrise Ceremony for Indigenous Peoples and to commemorate the Occupation.
For more detailed information on the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz visit NPS history.