Occupation of Alcatraz

Publicist for the Occupation

“It kind of triggered my imagination.”

“And I heard about Alcatraz, and it just made a lot of sense to me. It kind of triggered my imagination. I thought, oh that is delightful. “...But the main thing I’d do is, I would try to get feature writers to come in and write. That’s the main thing I did on the island. And I would just make arrangements for people who wanted to come and see the island. I was, you know the official hostess, on the island for the Vip’s and things.”

On November 9, 1969, the American Indian Center in California was destroyed by a fire. The center was important because it was used by American Indians as meeting grounds for discussing employment and healthcare amongst other American Indian issues. They needed a place to build a new Indian center and school and decided on the island of Alcatraz. Before European settlers came to America, Alcatraz was occupied by the Ohlone and Miwok American Indians. It was believed to be used as a fishing, camping, and hunting ground. However, after coming into U.S. possession Alcatraz was solely used for military purposes. From 1933 until 1964 Alcatraz served as a prison for extremely dangerous prisoners. In 1969 Alcatraz was a surplus land no longer being used by the government and according to the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, all surplus land once belonging to Native Americans would be returned to them if no longer being used by the government. Therefore, under the leadership of Mohawk Indian leader Richard Oaks, the occupation of Alcatraz began to convince the government to return the land back to American Indians. Grace joined the movement in 1969 and worked as a publicist helping Native Americans gain national attention for the cause. The occupation of Alcatraz ended in 1971 unsuccessfully with Alcatraz remaining in U.S possession.

Grace stayed in Alcatraz for three months and moved on to other surplus land projects such as Fort Lawton in 1970 where she fought for the building of another Indian center. In 1972 the surplus land movement experienced success with the building of Deganawidah- Quetz-alcoatl University a school for Chicanos and Indians on returned surplus land. Grace helped to coordinate the building of the school.