Nov 21, 2023 - Culture

Remembering the Indigenous occupation of Alcatraz

Photo of Native Americans gathered in front of a building on Alcatraz Island

Indigenous people gather during the occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on Nov. 11, 1970. Photo: Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

This week marks the 54th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz Island, a 19-month-long protest during which Indigenous people and their supporters demanded that the U.S. honor longstanding agreements with tribes.

How it happened: Led by Mohawk Native American activist Richard Oakes and Indigenous college students, the occupation was intended to reclaim the island, which was the site of a defunct federal prison previously used by tribal populations prior to colonization.

Details: Protesters wanted the deed to the island for "Indians of All Tribes." But as time passed, the federal government began shutting off electrical power and cutting off fresh water sources.

  • While protesters had quickly organized an elected council and delegated roles for things like housing, cooking and security, the movement started fracturing amid leadership disagreements.
  • Armed federal authorities ambushed the island on June 10, 1971, and forcibly removed the remaining protesters.

The big picture: It's seen as one of the greatest acts of Indigenous political resistance in U.S. history and continues to galvanize Indigenous people across the nation today.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios San Francisco.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More San Francisco stories

No stories could be found

San Franciscopostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios San Francisco.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more