The Alcatraz Proclamation: Annotated

Proclamation to the Great White Father and All His People

We, the native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.1

We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty:

We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars ($24) in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago. We know that $24 in trade goods for these 16 acres is more than was paid when Manhattan Island was sold, but we know that land values have risen over the years.2 Our offer of $1.24 per acre is greater than the 47¢ per acre that the white men are now paying the California Indians for their land.3 We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of that land for their own, to be held in trust by the American Indian Affairs [sic] and by the bureau of Caucasian Affairs to hold in perpetuity — for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state. We offer this treaty in good faith and wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with all white men.

We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian Reservation, as determined by the white man’s own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:

1. It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.

2. It has no fresh running water. 4

3. It has inadequate sanitation facilities.

4. There are no oil or mineral rights. 5

5. There is no industry and so unemployment is very great. 6

6. There are no health care facilities. 7

7. The soil is rocky and non-productive; and the land does not support game.

8. There are no educational facilities. 8

9. The population has always exceeded the land base.

10. The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others. 9

Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians. 10

1. After Columbus and his crew landed unexpectedly on the island of what is now the Dominican Republic, the Catholic church issued a papal bull in 1493 justifying the theft of land from Indigenous peoples in the name of Christian faith and its associated kingdoms. Called the doctrine of discovery, this edict would self-legitimize the Spaniard conquest throughout the following centuries of contact. A similar “principle of discovery” would eventually be cited in the United States Supreme Court case Johnson v McIntosh, which drawing on the political philosophy of John Locke, would claim Indigenous peoples had only occupied and not owned the lands now coveted for US expansion.

2. The Manahatin, Lenape, and Munsee Indians who were Indigenous to the lands now called New York City most likely practiced protocols of gift-giving in return for safe passage through their territories. The 1626 account that Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan for $24 from the Lenape Indians has never been verified.

3. During the 1950’s, the United States government began a process called termination, the phasing out of federally recognized tribes and the eradication of their unique reservation land holdings. In California, between 1956 and 1970 forty-eight rancherias, or communally-held tribal communities, were terminated and their lands sold.

4. Since the protests at Standing Rock, South Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline a simple but resounding message has been raised on countless banners: Mni Wconi, the Lakota Sioux phrase for Water is Life. While the water protectors in South Dakota, Nebraska and other sites of ongoing and proposed pipeline construction continue to fight against the inevitable water contamination that such infrastructure and extraction bring, tribal communities across the United States also struggle with water that is already contaminated or difficult to source. According to the Navajo Water Project 40% of Navajo families living on the reservation are without fresh running water. In 1979 the the United Nuclear Corporation’s mill tailings pond dam broke releasing 95 million gallons of radiated water into the Rio Puerco, contaminating the main source of agricultural and drinking water on the Navajo reservation.

5. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke earlier this year proclaimed Alaska “open for business,” in reference to his department’s recently released five year plan that proposes the selling off of nature reserves and lands sacred to the Gwich’in Nation for oil and gas leasing.

6. In 2014 the unemployment rate for Native Americans and African Americans is almost twice as much as that of white people.

7. During the 1960s throughout 1970s, Native women who visited Indian Health Services (IHS) hospitals were routinely sterilized without their consent or without full disclosure of the effects of sterilization. Work by scholars such as Andrea Smith and Jane Lawrence has found that between twenty-five to fifty percent of Native American women were sterilized during this period, some even after legislation was passed to address this abuse in 1974.

8. Since the very beginning of the United States national project, Indigenous children have been taken from their homes and placed in, most often religious, boarding schools. The most infamous of the boarding school advocates, Richard Pratt who founded the first off-reservation boarding school in 1879, is credited with saying “Kill the Indian and save the man,” a rationale that would come to define attempted genocide disguised as assimilation. While most assume these schools closed in the early 20th century, the Bureau of Indian Affairs continues to operate fifty-two federal boarding schools on reservations and there are also eight off-reservation boarding schools still operating with the intention of educating Native students. Source: Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.

9. While there are not reliable nationwide statistics on rates of the incarceration of Indigenous adults, a recent report on rising Montana prison populations shows that while Native peoples make up seven percent of the population, one in five arrests is of a Native person.

10. The Alcatraz Proclamation was written as a lampooning of the language of a white colonial government with the very serious intent to illuminate for Americans the conditions of life under continuing colonial policies. The mention of free and noble Indians references the prevailing romanticization of Indigenous peoples as noble savages, an image counter-culture types were particularly besotted with at the time of the proclamation’s writing. While the associations with the imagined noble savage of the past and the prominent figure of Native activism during the ’60s to ’70s was decidedly masculine one, women were and continue to be central parts of Indigenous governance and activism. Current movements such as Idle No More, the #NODAPL protests, and movements against the high rates of sexual violence against Native women and gender-variant peoples make a point to highlight the leadership of women, two-spirits and trans people.