Na­tive Amer­i­cans pay homage to Al­ca­traz takeover 50 years later

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Eric Risberg

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> For Eloy Martinez, re­turn­ing to Al­ca­traz Is­land meant a joy­ous re­union with peo­ple he hadn’t seen in decades. It also brought a re­newed sense of hope and pride.

Martinez was among about 150 peo­ple who took windy boat rides to the is­land Wed­nes­day for the first of three days of events mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the is­land’s takeover by Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivists. Martinez, who is South­ern Ute, was one the orig­i­nal oc­cu­piers.

“It’s a day full of smiles, see­ing all the peo­ple that we hadn’t seen — some I hadn’t seen in 50 years,” the 80-year-old said. “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.”

The oc­cu­pa­tion be­gan Nov. 20, 1969, and lasted 19 months. Al­though it ended with peo­ple be­ing forcibly re­moved from the is­land, it is widely seen as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment for tribes, rein­vig­o­rat­ing them to stand up for their land, their rights and their iden­ti­ties. It also helped usher in a shift in fed­eral pol­icy to­ward self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, al­low­ing tribes to take over fed­eral pro­grams on their land.

On Wed­nes­day, speak­ers shared stories from the oc­cu­pa­tion and dis­cussed its con­tin­u­ing rel­e­vance, in­clud­ing the in­spi­ra­tion it pro­vides for today’s in­dige­nous pro­test­ers, like those fight­ing a planned gi­ant te­le­scope on Hawaii’s Big Is­land.

They also helped re­store mes­sages painted by oc­cu­piers on a for­mer bar­racks build­ing at the Al­ca­traz dock. The words read: “In­di­ans

Wel­come,” “United In­dian Prop­erty” and “In­dian Land.”

Den­nis Turner, who is Luiseno, was among those who wrote the orig­i­nal mes­sages, and was there to help re­store them. He said ac­tivists at the time felt they needed to take a stand for all Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

“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.

Ja­son Morsette at­tended the an­niver­sary with his mother, Geneva Se­aboy, another orig­i­nal oc­cu­pier. He said he’s grate­ful that she and other ac­tivists were will­ing to fight for Na­tive Amer­i­cans’ land and treaty rights.

Be­ing at Al­ca­traz and see­ing their role in his­tory was “un­be­liev­able,” said Morsette, who is Dakota/ Chippewa and Man­dan, Hi­datsa and Arikara.

An­niver­sary events also in­cluded the open­ing of an ex­hibit on the is­land called “Red Power on Al­ca­traz: Per­spec­tives 50 Years Later,” which fea­tures posters from the oc­cu­pa­tion, news­let­ters, pho­to­graphs, film, skate­boards and in­for­ma­tion on the oc­cu­pa­tion’s or­ga­niz­ers. It also in­cludes po­lit­i­cal but­tons that il­lus­trate how the move­ment in­flu­enced the 1972 pres­i­den­tial race.

The items come from the per­sonal col­lec­tion of Kent Blansett, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska at Omaha who has writ­ten about Al­ca­traz. Blansett said pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the 1970s were try­ing to ap­peal to Na­tive Amer­i­cans who cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the fed­eral govern­ment with the Al­ca­traz takeover.


Eloy Martinez raises a fist Wed­nes­day while mak­ing his way to cer­e­monies mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the oc­cu­pa­tion on Al­ca­traz Is­land in San Fran­cisco.

Ja­son Morsette, of New Town, North Dakota, looks out to­ward the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge through barred win­dows dur­ing cer­e­monies for the 50th an­niver­sary of the Na­tive Amer­i­can oc­cu­pa­tion of Al­ca­traz Is­land Wed­nes­day in San Fran­cisco.

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