It was 49 years ago this November that a group of 89 American Indians, under the organization of Indians of All Tribes (IAT), traveled to the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area as part of a nonviolent protest to bring attention for Indian rights.
Today, a historical and pop culture collection that explores the origins and legacies of the occupation is on display at the UNO Criss Library’s Osborne Family Gallery. The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular library hours and runs until Friday, Aug. 10.
The exhibit comes from the personal collection of UNO associate professor Kent Blansett, Ph.D. A faculty member in the Department of History and Division of Native American Studies, Blansett is a nationally recognized scholar on the topic of Native American history and Native American rights. His forthcoming book from Yale University Press, “A Journey to Freedom: The Life of Richard Oakes, 1942-1972,” is a historical biography of Oakes, one of the leaders of the 1969 Alcatraz Takeover; Oakes was an Akwesasne Mohawk citizen and this is the first book to detail his life story.
Items in the exhibit include print media, political buttons, photographs, film, music, art, and comic books. The exhibit also provides a unique glimpse into the lives of those individuals who led the movement, such as Oakes, Shoshone-Bannock citizen LaNada Means, plus Nebraskans including Santee citizen John Trudell, Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Nation citizen Ross Harden and Omaha Nation citizen Dennis Hastings.
The display, which opened in June, represents the official national launch for “Not Your Indians Anymore,” a traveling exhibit that will eventually make its way to Alcatraz Island in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the takeover in November 2019.
A recent article from the Omaha World-Herald details the importance of the exhibit, as well as other efforts Blansett has organized as a scholar.
The Story of the Occupation
On Nov. 20, 1969, a group of 89 American Indians known as Indians of All Tribes, occupied the former federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay Area. This nonviolent occupation was led by a consortium of college students, families and activists from all throughout Indian Country.
Overnight, the Alcatraz takeover captured national and worldwide media attention for Indian rights. IAT’s mission was to transform the island into an Indigenous cultural, ecological, and spiritual center as well as a university exclusively devoted to Native American Studies. More importantly, this key moment in Red Power activism galvanized media, public, and political support that influenced a series of reforms that led to the passage of over 26 pieces of federal legislation, a period that later became known as the era of Native self-determination.
The occupation lasted a total of 19 months and inspired hundreds of takeovers across the United States, from Mount Rushmore, South Dakota to Wrigley Field in Chicago to Ellis Island in New York. It is estimated that between 10-15,000 Indigenous peoples made their way to Alcatraz Island in order to participate in one of the largest Indian rights demonstrations in American history.
Other ResourcesUNO John Trudell Distinguished Lecture Series
The Leonard and Shirley Goldstein Center for Human Rights
About the Osborne Family Gallery
Sponsorship for this exhibit includes UNO Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, as well as UNO’s Department of History, Division of Native American Studies, the American Indian Digital History Project and the College of Arts and Sciences. For more information please contact Amy Schindler, Director of Archives and Special Collections, email@example.com or Dr. Kent Blansett, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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