Return to Alcatraz: 40 Years of Resistance
November 26, 2009
By Brenda Norrell
ALCATRAZ -- With the sounds of the Miwok singers and the calling out of the names of the original occupiers of Alcatraz, American Indians ushered in a new era of resistance, remembering how the act of holding the rock became the bedrock of a new generation.
During the Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony, commemorating the 40 year anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz, Clyde Bellecourt of the American Indian Movement, told thousands gathered to prepare to hold President Obama accountable.
Bellecourt said that last year everyone was excited when President Obama took office. "I was happy too. I went to his inauguration. The whole world was excited."
"I told every one of you to be vigilant, to be watchful. We've heard promises before."
Bellecourt pointed out that President Obama has bailed out the car companies, bailed out Wall Street and bailed out the banks. The Indian people, however, have not been bailed out. Obama made campaign promises to the Indian people. So far, the missing billions in the trust funds have not been returned to the Indian people.
"We haven't seen a penny of what belongs to us. There may be a day when we have to hold his feet to the fire."
"We don't want a stimulus package. We don't want anyone to bail us out." Bellecourt said Indian people want what is justly theirs and guaranteed by treaties.
Referring to the Massacre of Wounded Knee, he said, "We'll never let this sacred hoop be broken again." Bellecourt said it is time to nourish the sacred tree and this hoop of life.
"We're still at war," he said, responding to questions of how to join the American Indian Movement. "I draft every one of you."
On Alcatraz, Doug Duncan said casinos have brought greed to Indian country and many elected tribal governments are now acting like whites. In northern California, the Pomo people are struggling to have their sacred land returned at Bloody Island, the site of the Massacre of Bloody Island in 1850.
Lenny Foster, Dine', spiritual leader for inmates in state and federal prisons, said he continues to visit Leonard Peltier in prison in Pennsylvania. Urging calls and letters to Obama to grant Peltier clemency, Foster said Peltier's health has not been good.
"He's been incarcerated for 33 years on fabricated evidence, "said Foster, adding that Peltier is one of the world's most famous political prisoners. Foster said Peltier's release would spark reconciliation between the United States and Indian people. Referring to the longstanding failure of the US to live up to its promises, he said, "We're not asking for any more than what is guaranteed to our people. Our people signed treaties."
During the weeklong events of AIM West, which began on Nov. 23, Bill Means spoke of the recent visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik, to his Oglala homeland at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Describing some of the worst living conditions in America, Means, cofounder of the International Indian Treaty Council, said there is a need for 6,000 more homes. On the average, 14 Lakotas live in each home. Because of the lack of funding and repairs, HUD homes have mold, disrepair, broken windows and doors that don't shut.
Means said the people are asking for what was guaranteed by treaty and are not seeking the benevolence of the United States. "The United States is not living up to their legal commitments through the treaties." Housing, education and health care were assured when the US took the lands of the Indian people.
Bellecourt, Foster, Means, Madonna Thunder Hawk (Two Kettle Lakota) and Mark Maracle, Mohawk, were among the AIM-West speakers on issues ranging from the theft of Indian children by social services to the theft of Indian lands for energy development. The Ohlone people were honored with images shown on Coit Tower, towering above the city, from sunset to dawn, before the Alcatraz Sunrise Ceremony. Still, the Shellmounds of the Ohlone people continue to be desecrated in the San Francisco region.
Mark Maracle, describing the genocide of Indian people in the United States and Canada, said Indian children were sent to residential schools and boarding schools. "They murdered their minds."
"They continue to do it today," he told those gathered at AIM West. Speaking of the need for unity, Maracle said the Haudenosaunee's Great Law is for everyone.
"We are a Nation," he said, pointing out that the United States is not 100 percent sovereign. Only Native nations are 100 percent sovereign.
"We have the greatest weapon, the truth."
Thousands gathered before first light at the Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering on Nov. 26 to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz. In the 1960s, American Indians occupied Alcatraz in a series of occupations. On November 20, 1969, Indians of All Tribes -- American Indian men, women and children -- made a stand here for justice. Alcatraz, vacated by the Bureau of Prisons in 1963, became the rallying place for the people to demand that their treaties be honored and their lands be returned. Lakota, Creek, Mono, Pomo, Paiute, Navajo, Mohawk, Chippewa and others took a stand that became a pivotal point for sovereignty, justice and freedom in Indian country.
For photos, audios and videos of these week's events: