Alcatraz is not an island; Alcatraz is an inspiration
The government did all these things and sat on tribes for so many
years 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 Alcatraz. 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
"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
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)
KQED operates KQED Public Television 9, the nation’s most-watched public television
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