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Indians of All Tribes, Alcatraz Proclamation, 1969

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing


In the mid-1960s, a younger, more radical generation of American Indian leaders emerged. The new generation embraced the term “Red Power” and sought to use the media to draw attention to the plight of American Indians and to call for Indian self-determination, that is, self-governance and decision-making on issues that affected their own people rather than falling under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.

No protest attracted more media attention than the 1969 takeover of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, led by the group Indians of All Tribes (IAT). On November 9, 1969, a small group from IAT symbolically claimed Alcatraz Island for the Indian people and, on November 20, began a full-scale occupation. Most of the occupiers were American Indian students, many from University of California, Los Angeles. For a time, the media covered the story closely, and social activists visited the island to lend their support. Internal power struggles plagued the occupiers as time wore on, and in 1970, the U.S. government ordered all electrical power to be shut off and removed the island’s fresh water supply. Most occupiers slowly left the island, and, on June 10, 1971, federal marshals, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, and special forces police removed the remaining five women, four children, and six men. The IAT issued the following proclamation in November 1969 to announce their intentions for the occupation.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document and what was their purpose for doing so?
  2. The occupation of Alcatraz was an act of protest. What other issues were the target of student protests in the 1960s?

Vocabulary Text
To the Great White Father and All His People:
We, the native Americans, re-claim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty: We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these sixteen acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years. Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47 cents per acre the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land. We will give to the inhabitants of this land a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian Government for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea—to be administered by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs (BCA). We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. We offer this treaty in good faith and wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with all white men.
We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable as an Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man’s own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations, in that:
1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.
2. It has no fresh running water.
3. The sanitation facilities are inadequate.
4. There are no oil or mineral rights.
5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.
6. There are no health care facilities.
7. The soil is rocky and non-productive and the land does not support game.
8. There are no educational facilities.
9. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.
Golden Gate: the narrow strait that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.

Comprehension Questions

  1. Who is the Great White Father? What does this term reference?
  2. By what right does IAT claim Alcatraz Island? Why is this ironic?
  3. What policy does this refer to?
  4. What is the tone of this document?
  5. Why does Alcatraz resemble Indian reservations? What point are the authors making?

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Consider this source in the larger context of U.S. relations with American Indians. Review the 1790 Treaty of New York (see the Chapter 4 The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of New York, 1790 Primary Source, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (see the Chapter 6 Indian Removal Act, 1830, and Cherokee Chief John Ross’s Memorial and Protest to Congress, 1836 Primary Source, the Dawes Act of 1887 (see the Chapter 9 The Dawes Act, 1887 Primary Source, and images from the Carlisle School from the 1880s (see the Chapter 9 Images from the Carlisle Indian School, 1880s Primary Source). Explain how this document is a response to U.S. policy toward American Indians from the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
  2. The year 2019 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz, to this day the longest occupation of federal land by American Indians. Read the article “We Hold the Rock” by Dr. Troy Johnson and watch the video “Perspectives 50 Years Later: Eloy Martinez” from the U.S. National Park Service and then evaluate to what extent the occupation was successful. Justify your response with specific evidence.

Alcatraz Proclamation