Federal government restores Native American ‘Occupation of Alcatraz’ graffiti
The occupation of Alcatraz by indigenous activists from 1969 to 1971 was a pivotal event in the history of Native resistance. It brought attention all over the world to the national oppression faced by the indigenous peoples of Amerikkka. Now this history is being preserved as it should be.
Putting graffiti in a national park is a federal offense. So it’s more than a little unusual that the National Park Service is not only allowing, but has actually restored some graffiti left during a protest held by Native Americans inside the former prison site Alcatraz.
“We restored it because it has a social significance,” Alcatraz Site Supervisor Marcus Koenen told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It is part of what this park is all about.”
The once-notorious prison, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Fransisco, was occupied from the winter of 1969 through the spring of 1971 by a group of Native Americans after the prison had closed.
Hand-painted at the time on a prison water tower were the words, “PEACE AND FREEDOM WELCOME HOME OF THE FREE INDIAN LAND.”
The protestors also created a document entitled the Alcatraz Island Proclamation, in which they outlined their hopes to turn the former prison site into a Native American cultural center or university.
“It would be fitting and symbolic,” the proclamation reads, “that ships from all over the world entering the Golden Gate would first see Indian land and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation.”
The creatively worded document also offered a “compromise” with the federal government. Proposals included an offer to buy Alcatraz for $24 worth of beads and red cloth, “a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago.”
The group also wrote that Alcatraz would be a perfect fit as a reservation because like other lands given to Native Americans by the U.S. government, the island is “isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation … has no fresh running water … there are no health care facilities. … The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.”
Other pieces of graffiti left on the island include inscriptions such as, “Custer had it coming.”
As they worked to restore the sign, the National Park Service consulted with the American Indian Movement and the Indian Treaty Council.
Hired to restore the graffiti was Eloy Martinez, a Ute who lives in Oakland and who was part of the occupation, according to the paper. The restoration project took about a year and cost $1.5 million.
“We all agreed we were doing the right thing. We were honoring an important part of the island’s history,” David Dusterhoff, project manager for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, told the Chronicle.