Alcatraz is not an island; Alcatraz is an inspiration

July 14, 2002

The government did all these things and sat on tribes for so many

years Š and yet still, in 1969, there’s still a group of people who

were willing to stand up and say, we want our freedom. We want to be

Native people. We want our own governments. We want the right to

self determination. It’s a revolutionary act."

Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee

ITVS and KQED present Jon Plutte and James M. Fortier’s ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN

ISLAND To Air Nationally on PBS November 7, 2002 at 10:00pm

The first in-depth look at the history, politics, personalities, and cultural

reawakening of the 1969-71 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island.

(San Francisco, CA)- Independent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED

presents director James M. Fortier and producer Jon Plutte’s one-hour

public television documentary ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND with “Law and

Order" star Benjamin Bratt (Quechua) providing voice-over narration.

ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND won the Best Documentary Feature award at

the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, was a Land Grant

Award Finalist at the 2001 Taos Talking Pictures Festival and was an

official selection for the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. The film will

premiere nationwide on PBS on November 7, 2002 at 10:00pm (check

local listings), and is a co-presentation of ITVS and KQED.

Additional funding was provided by the California Council for the

Humanities, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, and the

Muscogee Creek Tribe of Oklahoma.

The filmmakers are also working with ITVS to develop a community

outreach program to bring the film directly to reservation and urban

Indian communities with an emphasis on Native youth, as well as

educational institutions, and human rights and social activism venues.

The occupation of Alcatraz was not just an Indian story, but a story

of people seizing control of their own futures though social and

political activism. In these times of questioning and reexamination

of the role of activism in America, the 1969 Indian occupation of

Alcatraz reminds us that there is a place for action in the political

world, and that positive change can be made in the face of

overwhelming government resistance. This is an opportunity to

educate, to continue a dialogue discussing these issues, to inspire

the next generation of activists, and perhaps most importantly, to

honor those who have sacrificed so much and dedicated their lives for

the advancement of all free people.

About the Film

For thousands of Native Americas, the infamous Alcatraz is not an

island . . . it is an inspiration. After generations of oppression,

assimilation, and near genocide, a small group of Native American

students and "Urban Indians" began the occupation of Alcatraz Island

in November 1969. They were eventually joined by thousands of Native

Americans, retaking "Indian land" for the first time since the 1880s.

ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND is the story of how this historic event

altered U.S. Government Indian policy and programs, and how it

forever changed the way Native Americans viewed themselves, their

culture and their sovereign rights. The story of the occupation of

Alcatraz is as complex and rich as the history of Native Americans.

This documentary examines the personal sacrifices, tragedies, social

battles and political injustices many Native Americans experienced

under the United States Government’s policies of assimilation,

termination and relocation — all eventually leading to Alcatraz.

Out of Alcatraz came the "Red Power" movement of the 1970s, which


been called the lost chapter of the Civil Rights era. Thirty years

after the take over of Alcatraz, ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND provides

the first in-depth look at the history, politics, personalities and

cultural reawakening behind this historic event, which sparked a new

era of Native American political empowerment, and a cultural


Among the many people interviewed for the production of ALCATRAZ IS

NOT AN ISLAND are occupation leaders John Trudell, Dr. LaNada Boyer

and Adam Fortunate Eagle, along with several other prominent

participants, including Wilma Mankiller, Grace Thorpe, Leonard

Garment and Brad Patterson. Associate Producer and Historical

Consultant Dr. Troy Johnson and Native American author/historian

Robert Warrior provide much of the historical commentary in the film.

Also included in the documentary is an abundance of historical photos

by Michelle Vignes and Ilka Hartmann and archival 16 mm footage —

much of which has never been seen by the public.

ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND is directed by James M. Fortier

(Metis-Ojibway), and produced by Jon Plutte. The Executive Producer

is Millie Ketcheshawno (Mvskoke), and the Associate Producer and

Historical Consultant is Dr. Troy Johnson. ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND

was edited by Mike Yearling. Writers are James M. Fortier, Jon

Plutte, and Mike Yearling with Dr. Troy Johnson and Millie

Ketcheshawno. Original music was provided by Jim Wilson (Choctaw),

and the documentary is narrated by Benjamin Bratt, with additional

voice work provided by Ojibway recording artists Wayquay. The

soundtrack also features Native American performers Quilt Man,

Koljademo, Douglas Spotted Eagle, Keith Secola, Ulali, and Juno Award

(Canadian Grammies) winner Jerry Alfred and the Medicine Beat, among


The film features Peter Bowen, Dr. LaNada Boyer (Shosone-Bannock),

Edward Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseno), Tim Findley, Adam Fortunate Eagle

(Anishinabe-Ojibway), Robert Free (Tewa), Leonard Garment, Shirley

Guervara (Mono), Dr. Troy Johnson, Millie Ketcheshawno (Mvskoke),

Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee), Alan Miller (Seminole), Don Patterson

(Tonkawa), Brad Patterson, Denise Quitiquit (Pomo), Grace Thorpe (Sac

& Fox), Brookes Townes, John Trudell (Santee Sioux), Susan Tsosie

(Yurok), Robert Warrior (Osage) & Ed Willie (Paiute-Pomo).

Occupation Background Summary:

In the 1950s, after decades of failed policies and programs, the U.S.

government under President Eisenhower implemented the

Relocation/Termination Programs as the official Indian policy of the

Federal Government. These two programs were designed to lure Indian

people off the reservations and into major cities, such as San

Francisco, in order to complete the assimilation and acculturation of

Native Americans. By the mid-1960s the San Francisco Bay Area’s urban

Indian community was one of the largest and best organized in the


Rather than dissolving into the urban "melting pot," Bay Area Indians

tenaciously clung to their cultures, formed social and political

organizations, and began to mobilize. Echoing the Free Speech, Civil

Rights and anti-war struggles and other social justice movements, Bay

Area Indians began their own protest of Indian treaty and civil

rights abuses. On November 20, 1969, following two previously

unsuccessful occupation attempts, a group of Native American students

from various California Universities, with support from Bay Area

Indian organizations and leaders, began the nineteen-month occupation

of Alcatraz Island, Today, the Indian people whose lives were most

affected by the occupation regard it as perhaps the most important

event in the post-reservation struggle for Indian land, treaty, and

civil rights. Nearly 30 years after the occupation, many historians

identify the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island as the spark which

ignited the "Red Power" movement of the 1970s.

"Following Alcatraz, there’s the occupation of other, over 50 other

federal facilities (by Indian people) for a total, in the seventies,

of some 72 occupations that would take place. Many of these are

either led by people who came from Alcatraz or they were participated

in by people who came from Alcatraz or they said they were inspired

by AlcatrazŠ. Thirty years later, the Alcatraz occupation is now

considered the lost chapter of the 1960’s civil rights era"

– Dr. Troy Johnson, CSU, Long Beach

The occupation of Alcatraz was, however, much more than just a

political movement for the many Native Americans who were there, and

for Native Americans who heard and talked about it on reservations

and in cities across the country. Many Indian people now consider it

a renaissance for Indian culture, traditions, identity and


"Alcatraz was symbolic in the rebirth of Indian people to be

recognized as a people, as human beings, whereas before, we were not.

We were not recognized, we were not legitimate ….but we were able

to raise, not only the consciousness of other American people, but

our own people as well, to reestablish our identity as Indian people,

as a culture, as political entities."

-Dr. LaNada Boyer (Shoshone-Bannock) /Occupation Leader

The occupation literally changed the lives of Indian people, giving

rise to what many Native Americans and their supporters refer to as

the "legacy" of the Alcatraz occupation. With the passage of time,


has taken on the characteristics of a Native American oral legend.

With a cast of colorful characters, mythic heroes, conflict,

suspense, euphoria and tragedy, the occupation is a dramatic and

compelling story.

"What Alcatraz started out to be was one thing, and what it became

was another. There’s no question that the physical occupation of

Alcatraz was in some ways flawed and in some ways disastrous, even.

And yet, the spiritual meaning of the occupation of Alcatraz and its

impact on Native American people and Native American spirituality and

politics was greater than that."

Tim Findley, Former Reporter, SF Chronicle

"Grandfather said that long ago the Sacramento Valley was one

freshwater lake. An angry spirit within the earth caused a great

shaking which emptied the great lake and left only the San Francisco

Bay in its wake. There, in isolation and containing a "truth" was


island. According to our oral histories, that’s where we were told

to go and search for a healing treasure for our troubled people long

ago. The island became known as "the rock with the rainbow inside,"

or "diamond island." It was said that the "diamond" would

heal and

restore balance to all our people, everywhere. We were always told

that the "diamond" was a thought, or a truth. It was not jewelry.

It sparkled and it shined, but it was not jewelry. It was much more." Darryl

“Babe” Wilson (Achoma ‘ Wi / Atsuge ‘ Wi)

About KQED

KQED operates KQED Public Television 9, the nation’s most-watched public television

station, and Digital Television 9, Northern California’s only digital public

television signal, KQED Public Radio 88.5 FM, the nation’s most-listened-to

public radio station, and the KQED Education Network, which brings the impact

of KQED to thousands of teachers, students, parents and media professionals

through workshops, seminars and resources; and, which harnesses

the power of the Internet to bring KQED to communities across the Web.

About ITVS

Unique in American public television, the Independent Television

Service (ITVS) was established by Congress to fund and present

programs that “involve creative risks and address the needs of

underserved audiences, especially children and minorities,”while

granting artistic control to independent producers. ITVS has funded

more than 350 programs for public television since its inception in

1991. Critically acclaimed ITVS programs include THE FARMER’S WIFE;




Award-winning documentaries TRAVIS; A HEALTHY BABY GIRL; COMING OUT

UNDER FIRE and THE GATE OF HEAVENLY PEACE, and duPont Award-winners



the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded

by the American people. For information, contact ITVS at 501 York

St., First Floor, San Francisco, CA 94110; e-mail: or visit the ITVS website at

Contact: Stephen Schulman

Susan Senk (212) 206-8974

Nancy Fishman (415) 356-8383 x231