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Native Americans Protest Theft of Alcatraz Island

The federal government has been in continuous violation of one of its treaties with Native Americans that it agreed to in 1868 called the Treaty of Fort Laramie for years. In essence, the U.S. government agreed that unused federal lands would be open for ownership claims by certain Native American tribes.

The Pacific island off the nation’s West coast across from San Francisco, California, where the Alcatraz prison was built originally belonged to the Ohlone tribe. In 1850, the federal government seized it for use as a military base. It eventually became a military prison before its 1934 transformation as the forerunner of today’s supermax prisons. It housed such notorious prisoners as Al Capone, along with 19 Hopi tribesmen charged for the “crime” of refusing to assimilate into Anglo culture.

Alcatraz, known as “The Rock,” was permanently shuttered in 1963. The federal government declared the defunct federal penitentiary “surplus property,” a legal precursor under the Fort Laramie Treaty to returning it to its rightful owners, the Ohlone people. Except ... the island was never returned to the Ohlone tribe. Another treaty broken.

History teaches that the single biggest factor in George Custer’s defeat at the Little Big Horn was the various Native American tribes’ decision to put aside their differences and fight together. On November 20, 1969, a large group of Native Americans calling themselves the Indians of All Tribes (IAT) repeated that page in history by entering and seizing Alcatraz Island, reclaiming what was, and is, rightfully theirs.

The 21-acre island soon sported a clinic, a media broadcasting station and a school for children, all assisted by donations from around the globe. Long-term dreams and plans included a cultural center, museum and university. As time passed, the occupiers grew weary, resolve faltered, college students left to return to their studies and the numbers of IAT continued dwindling.

On June 11, 1971, some 19 months later, federal officials removed the last members of the IAT occupiers from The Rock. It remains in the federal inventory to this day and is a popular tourist spot.

On the third Thursday of November 2019, a group of 4,500 IAT descendants with some of their original number, gathered at Alcatraz. They call that day “Unthanksgiving.” They now commemorate the 1969 reoccupation of their island and call attention to their ill treatment by the federal government on a yearly basis. They remain today, much as they were then, largely unheard, ignored and impoverished as a people. 



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