A faded message reading "Indians Welcome" can be seen on the walls of a building on Alcatraz Island. Photo: Tewy

Dean Chavers: Remembering the Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969

Remembering the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969

By Dean Chavers
Native Sun News Today Columnist

This is a little story about the very first week that we occupied the Island of Alcatraz.

I was driving a Yellow Cab the day 14 Indian people jumped off a boat and swam to Alcatraz Island. I got off work at 1:00 am, went home to bed, and was in the Native American Studies office at UC Berkeley by 8:00 am. The place was going crazy. I asked Carmen Christie what the excitement was all about, and she said, “LaNada and them took over Alcatraz Island yesterday. They jumped off a boat and swam over there. But they are coming back to the Indian Center. Can we go over and meet them?”

So six of us jumped in my car and ran across the Bay Bridge to get to Sixteenth Street. The place was full when we got there. The 14 had just gotten there and were hungry. Someone went out and bought some food and they started planning how to go back and take the Island for good. We were there until midnight. Richard Oakes, the leader, led hours of discussion of how to do it. The consensus was that we would go back in two weeks, take a large group of Indian college students, take bedrolls, food, pots and pans, and plan to stay.

The night of November 19 was set for the occupation. Richard lined up some boats of hippies from Sausalito and we met at the Indian Center again. From there we left about 11:00 pm to get to the boats. When we got there, someone said, “Who’s going to call the press?” Richard said, “Oh shit! We forgot. Dean, you’re the oldest one here, and you know how to write. Go back to the Indian Center and call the press. You’re now the Mainland Coordinator.” I did that for six weeks, never setting foot in class at UC Berkeley.

One of the 14 UCLA students volunteered to go back with me and we started looking up the radio, TV, and newspapers in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, and San Jose. We got no sleep that night. We started calling them about 5:00 and 30 of them showed up at 8:30 for our impromptu press conference. They were there for only half an hour, then went running off to get boats to take them to the Island. They could not get on, since the Coast Guard had it blockaded.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: Remembering the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969

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