Alcatraz Island

alcatraz island ruins with a blue sky


Quick Facts

San Francisco, California
National Recreation Area
Alcatraz Island, the site of pre-Civil War-era fortifications, was the nation’s first military prison, which later became the most notorious maximum security penitentiary in the United States

On November 9, 1969, American Indian people once again came to Alcatraz Island when Richard Oakes, a Mohawk Indian, and a group of Native American supporters set out in a chartered boat to symbolically claim the island for the native people. On November 20, 1969, this symbolic occupation turned into a full scale occupation which lasted until June 11, 1971. On June 10, 1971, armed federal marshals, FBI agents, and Special Forces police swarmed the island and ended the occupation. This 19 month operation is the longest prolonged occupation of a federal facility by Native Americans to this very day.

The success or failure of the occupation should not be judged by whether the demands of the occupiers were realized. The underlying goals of the American Indians on Alcatraz were to awaken the American public to the reality of the plight of the first Americans and to assert the need for American Indian self-determination. As a result of the occupation, the official government policy of termination of tribes was ended and a policy of American Indian self-determination became the official US government policy. Alcatraz may have been lost, but the occupation gave birth to a political movement which continues today.

Last updated: January 24, 2018