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The Rock's Other Occupation

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

Native American Occupation of Alcatraz, November 20, 1969 [Photo: SAN FRANCISCO HISTORY CENTER, SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY]

Alcatraz isn't exactly a secret spot around these parts. Pretty much every local and visitor knows its story - heck, most people who've never even been here have heard of Alcatraz. But one part of the island's more recent history is lesser known. From November 20, 1969 to June 11, 1971 the group Indians of All Tribes (IAT) occupied the island.

After The Rock was closed in 1963, there were two short Indian occupations. Since many different tribes were represented, the name "Indians of All Tribes" was adopted. The November occupation was planned by Richard Oakes and young urban Indian college students. The members of the occupation each played a role, including security, sanitation, day-care, school, housing, cooking, and laundry, and all decisions were made by unanimous consent of the people. They made daily radio broadcast from the island and began publishing a newsletter. Demands were clear: the deed to the island, establish an Indian university, a cultural center, and a museum. FBI was directed to remain clear of the island.

The proclamation of the Indians of All Tribes who took Alcatraz (click link for full text) [Photo: Found SF]

By early 1970, the members started to shift as many of the Indian students went back to school, and non-Indian hippies and drug users took their place. Stories of disarray caused the public to lose support and sympathy. On June 10, 1971, armed officials swarmed the island and removed five women, four children, and six unarmed Indian men. All was not lost for the occupiers - the event was seen as an awakening of Americans to the reality of the plight of Indian Americans, and led to the reform of federal Indian policy.

Graffiti from occupation [Photo: NPS]

Every year on Thanksgiving several thousand indigenous people and spectators travel to Alcatraz Island to celebrate "Unthanksgiving Day," demonstrating and celebrating their culture and heritage. Now that Alcatraz is part of the National Park Service, the occupation is part of the interpretation of the site. Graffiti on the island's water tower reading "Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land" was recently meticulously documented and then painted back on the water tower after it was restored last year.
· Alcatraz Is Not An Island [PBS]
· The Indian Occupation of Alcatraz [Found SF
· We Hold The Rock [NPS]
· Previous Coverage of Alcatraz [Curbed SF archives]