As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 383 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Discussion Guidelines - Red Power in California
Photo of Alcatraz Take Over - Red Power Movement

Introduction: Today, we move to our next topic - another that deals with civil rights but is rarely mentioned in our textbooks. Generally, our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement focuses on the efforts of the African American community in the wake of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education. However, to really understand civil rights, we also have to examine the Chicano movement - something we do after break - as well as the Red Power movement. Our examination begins with an historical understanding of Indian activism at both the national and state level, and then specifically focuses on such activism in California.

Discussion Goals for today:

  1. To trace the early roots of Indian activism.
  2. To understand the goals and the patterns of protest used during the Red Power movement in general and specifically in California.
  3. To examine the chronology of Indian activism in general and specifically in California.
  4. To explore a more detailed chronology of the take over of Alcatraz.
  5. To understand the achievements of the American Indian Movement.

Goal #1: To trace the early roots of Indian activism.

Indian activism has been a prominent feature of American history since the Europeans first landed in North America. Individual Indian nations or small confederations of Indian nations attempted to keep the white settlers from taking their land and destroying their exercise of cultural, spiritual, political, and economic traditions.

It was not until the 20th century, however, that Indian activism took place on a national level. During the 1940s and 1950s, American Indian activism primarily focused on pressing the federal government for change through the use of negotiation, compromise, and legal remedies. These three legal approaches to activism were primarily directed by the oldest national Indian organization - the National Congress of American Indians.

Thus it was that a number of young Indian people who attended the Photo of Indian Activism1961conference became disillusioned with the NCAI and decided to organize a new group - the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). Its primary goal was to resurrect a sense of national pride among young Indian people. Within a few years, the NIYC assumed an increasingly militant position, especially through its endorsement of and involvement in a series of "fish-ins" in Washington State. These civil rights efforts attempted to get Washington to abide by the 1855 Point No Point Treaty with the Kitsap ad Olympic Peninsula tribes who gave up most of their land, but retained rights to their traditional fishing areas.

While NIYC was growing, so was a new generation of Indians who were largely young and college-educated, were proud of their Indian heritage, were unwilling to accept white paternalism, and were contemptuous of white privilege. Increasingly, they began appearing at university seminars, joining the NIYC, and attending hearings of federal agencies whose affairs touched Indian life.

By the 1960s, a growing number of American Indian activists were frustrated with the membership and mindset of the NCAI and the NIYC, whose leadership represented the federally-recognized tribes reorganized under the 1934 IRA and a small number of young Indian people. These new young Indian activists favored creating regional organizations of activists, speaking out against the rule in Washington, D.C., and defending the position of traditional Indians across the nation.

This interest in activism, this rejection of white privilege, and this search for freedom within communities coincided with the Civil Rights Movement which was erupting across the southern United States. It was into this particular combination of circumstances that several young Indians became activist leaders in a battle for change that known as the Red Power Movement.

Goal #2: To understand the goals and the patterns of protest used during the Red Power movement in general and specifically in California

Red Power advocates rejected the activist strategies of their predecessors - negotiation, compromise, and legal remedies - and instead moved into the more militant, radical arena of protest actions. The actual words "Red Power" were first used in public gatherings by NIYC members in the mid-1960s and eventually were used to describe the events that unfolded in the 1960s. The newly-organized Red Power activists sought to achieve at least three primary goals in the 1960s:

  1. self-determination and an end to the entire trustee-ward relationship between the federal government and Indian Nations;
  2. federal support for tribal traditions and sovereignty; and
  3. improved living conditions and justice for all Indian Peoples.

To achieve these goals, Red Power activists used at least three patterns of protest:

  1. Taking over federal land and claiming it for Indian cultural and educational uses. Most of these incidents were brief - with the exception of Alcatraz which lasted 19 months - and usually involved the seizure of unused or abandoned federal property. (See discussion in Goal 4 below)
  2. Protesting at government buildings and on Indian reservations in a manner that assumed more serious, sometimes violent, overtones. In these cases, for a wide variety of defensive reasons, Indian activists stepped over the line from activism and protest and into the arena of violence. These activities attracted a great deal of national attention and prompted the FBI to step up its surveillance of AIM and all Indian activism. The best example of this was what is known as Wounded Knee II - and the first few minutes of the excellent video We Shall Remain: Wounded Knee provides a good understanding of the civil war that took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation from 1973-1976.
  3. Demonstrating at various sites, including at government buildings and in national parks or at national monuments. Most were brief, and with the exception of the Trail of Broken Treaties, attracted very little national attention.

Cold Call: Twentieth cold call on required viewing and reading - Watch "The American Indian Movement" at AND read Goals 3 and 4 in today's discussion guide at

Goal #3: To examine the chronology of Indian activism in general and specifically in California.

red power poster

1944 - National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). The NCAI was the nation's first large-scale national organization designed to monitor federal Indian policies. The men and women who founded NCAI represented tribes from 27 states - California included. According to its constitution, NCAI sought "to enlighten the public toward a better understanding of the Indian race; to preserve Indian cultural values; to seek an equitable adjustment of tribal affairs, to secure and to preserve Indian rights under Indian treaties with the United States; and otherwise to promote the common welfare of the American Indians."

1961 - National Indian Youth Council (NIYC). The NIYC was created to resurrect a sense of national pride among young Indian people and to instill an activist message: Indians were no longer to bow their heads in humble obedience to the BIA and other institutions of white society. Instead, they were to look back to their own great cultural traditions and make decisions about their lives based upon such traditions.

1964 - First landing at Alcatraz. On March 4, five Sioux Indians claimed the island under the Fort Laramie 1868 Treaty enabling Sioux Indians to take possession of surplus federal land. They occupied Alcatraz for four hours, calling for the island's transformation into a cultural center and an Indian university.

1968 - United Native Americans (UNA). UNA was founded in San Francisco as a pan-Indian organization that promoted American Indian Movement Logoself-determination through Indian control of Indian affairs at every level.

In July - The American Indian Movement (AIM). AIM was founded in Minneapolis to protect the city's Native community from police abuse and to create job training and housing and education programs. Within a year, its activities spread throughout the nation.

1969 - American Indian Center in San Francisco burned down. It had been a meeting place that served 30,000 Indian people with social programs. The loss of the center focused Indian attention on taking over Alcatraz for use as a new facility.

November 9 - Second landing at Alcatraz. Mohawk Indian Richard Oakes led an attempt to occupy Alcatraz Island twice in one day. Fourteen Native Americans stayed overnight and left peacefully the following morning.

November 20 - Occupation of Alcatraz. Phot of Alcatraz "You are on Indian land"The occupation began when approximately 80-90 American Indians - mostly college students - took over the island and delivered the "Alcatraz Proclamation" to the federal government. Because they belonged to many different Indian tribes, the occupiers called themselves Indians of All Tribes. It was 19 months before federal agents escorted the last 15 activists from the island. The occupation marks the beginning of the national Red Power Movement.

1970 - President Nixon ended termination. (Of the 109 tribes and bands terminated in the 1950s, 62 were in Oregon, 41 were in California, and the other 6 were in Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin.) He also announced a new policy of "self-determination without termination." The administration passed 52 legislative proposals supporting Indian self-rule, increased the BIA budget by 225 percent, doubled funds for Indian health care, and established the Office of Indian Water Rights.

August - Governor Ronald Reagan announced help for California Indians. Reagan unveiled a $50,000 planning grant to the Bay Area Native American Council for programs addressing the needs of urban Indians in the San Francisco Bay Area.

November - AIM at Plymouth. AIM painted Plymouth Rock red and occupied the Mayflower replica on Thanksgiving Day.

1971 - Alcatraz occupation ended. On June 11, the 15 remaining Alcatraz occupiers were escorted off the island by U.S. marshals and FBI agents, officially ending the 19-month, nine-day long occupation.

Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (D-Q University) opened outside of Davis, California as the state's only university designed to provide alternative ideas and methods of education to American Indians. The school closed in 2005, During several instances in 2008, students and supporters were arrested for occupying the grounds.

1972 - Richard Oakes was killed. In September, Oakes died of a gunshot wound in northern California at the age of 30. His killer, Michael Morgan, claimed Oakes had ambushed him and his attorneys argued self-defense before a jury of non-Native citizens. First Morgan was charged with murder then the charge Photo of AIM activists in Washington, D.C. at the end of the 1972 Trail of Broken Treatieswas changed to involuntary manslaughter. In the end Morgan was freed, outraging the Indian community.

October - The Trail of Broken Treaties. Indian activists left the West Coast by car, bus and van. In Minneapolis, the Twenty Points Paper was drawn up by AIM leaders and AIM thereafter became the lone voice of the Caravan. More than 2,000 Indians went to Washington on the eve of the presidential election. Their goal was to present Nixon with the Paper, but when no one from the BIA agreed to see them, they occupied BIA headquarters for seven days, demanded that the U.S. recognize tribal self-determination, took confidential files concerning the BIA and Indian Health Service, and inflicted $2.2 million in damage to the building. Embarrassed by the media coverage, the Nixon Administration promised to respond to their demands within a month and gave them $66,000 in transportation money immediately in exchange for a peaceful end to the occupation.

1973 - Wounded Knee II. See the chronology at

1977-78 - Congressional laws. U.S. Congress passed approximately 50 laws that helped redefine tribal issues regarding water rights, fishing rights and land acquisition. Some land was returned to the tribes, and issues of self-governance were further clarified.

1978 - The "Longest Walk." Indian participants embarked on the "Longest Walk" from Alcatraz Island to Washington, D.C. to symbolize the forced removal of Indians from 1978 "Longest Walk" postertheir homelands and to draw attention to continuing problems. They presented a manifesto to the Carter administration.

1980 - Organized Red Power Movement came to an end. By the end of the 1970s, the organized Red Power Movement was over. While no large-scale activist movement continued, Indian activism still flourished through several endeavors: the on-going activities of AIM, various U.S. Supreme Court cases, and a wide array of efforts to deal with new legislation from the U.S. Congress designed to return self-determination to Indian nations.

1987 - California v. Cabazon Supreme Court decision. The Cabazon Tribe in Southern California operated a high stakes bingo game and card club on reservation lands. The State claimed it had the legal authority to prohibit such activities on Indian lands if such activities were prohibited elsewhere in the State. The Supreme Court found that tribes could operate gambling businesses on tribal lands and that states which permitted any form of gambling could not prohibit Indians from operating gambling facilities.

1988 - Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Association Supreme Court decision. The Yurok Indians and several other Northern California tribes argued that the construction of a 6-mile, two-lane paved road between the towns of Gasquet and Orleans (the G-O Road) and the implementation of a timber management plan would interfere with traditional tribal religions. While the Court held that construction of the road did note violate their freedom of religion, the road was never built due to an administrative decision.

1989 - The National Museum of the American Indian Act. The federal act ordered the Smithsonian Institute to return Native American remains to American Indian tribes.

1990 - The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act. NAGPRA protected Indian gravesites on federal public lands against looting.

1992 - "Anniversary" of Columbus. The celebration of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas prompted protests from many Native photo anti-columbus demonstration 1992American tribes and supporters, prompting cities including San Francisco to stop their quincentenary celebrations.

1994 - AIM "Walk for Justice." From February 11 - July 15, AIM leaders organized a nationwide "Walk for Justice" beginning on Alcatraz Island to bring attention to the continued unjust imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.

1997 - Native American Public Telecommunications, Inc., (NAPT). The Corporation for Public Broadcasting established NAPT to promote, produce and distribute Native American television and radio programming.

2005 - Indian Casinos in California. There were 55 Native American casinos in California bringing in a total annual income of more than $3.5 billion. These revenues dramatically changed the economic, political, and social landscapes of California's native peoples. Because only groups that have been federally recognized as official tribes can build casinos, an enormous financial gulf now separates recognized and unrecognized native groups. Those groups with federal recognition enjoy considerable political clout, while members of unrecognized groups continue to suffer from joblessness, under-education, and poor living conditions. Money from gaming has also generated controversies over Indian identity as federally recognized groups have been forced to reconsider who can and cannot claim membership. Gaming has brought new wealth to some of California's Native Americans, but it has also brought new divisions, contentions, and self-definitions.

2008 - Longest Walk 2. Thirty years after the Longest Walk, AIM led the Longest Walk 2, which started in San Francisco and arrived in Washington on July 11, 2008. This 8,200-mile walk included representatives from more than 100 American Indian nations. The walk highlighted Photo of Indian Activismthe need to protect American Indian sacred sites, tribal sovereignty, and the environment - with a special emphasis on action to stop global warming. Participants traveled through 26 states and 35 reservations and arrived in Washington D.C. on July 11th with the message "All Life is Sacred, Protect Mother Earth."

2010 - Efforts began to reopen Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University (D-Q University) .

2013 - Indian Country began experiencing an economic resurgence despite decades of dependence on the federal government. Though the per capita income of Native Americans living on reservations is still less than half the national average, tribes across the country are building economies with a diverse range of businesses. See the story and video at

Longest Walk 4: Return to Alcatraz began on July 15th in Washington D.C. and travelied to Alcatraz with a planned arrival date of December 22,. The purpose of this Walk was to reaffirm the heart of Traditional Tribal Sovereignty rooted in Ceremony and land based spiritual relationships.

Goal #4: To explore a more detailed chronology of the take over of Alcatraz

1775 - The island received its name when Spanish explorer Juan Manuel de Ayala photo of Alcatrazcharted the San Francisco Bay, and named this tiny speck of land La Isla de los Alcatraces, which translated to "Island of the Pelicans."

1847 - The U.S. Army took notice of Alcatraz andits strategic value as a military fort.

1853 - U.S. Army Engineers started constructing a military fortress on the island, along with the Pacific Coast's first operating lighthouse.

1861 - The federal government began sending political prisoners to Alcatraz.

1873 - The first Indian prisoner arrived at Alcatraz. Paiute Tom was transferred from Camp McDermit in Nebraska. Two days after he arrived, a guard shot and killed him.

Two Modoc Indians, Barncho and Sloluck were sent to Alcatraz. On May 28, 1875 Barncho died of scrofula, and was buried at Fort McDowell on nearby Angel Island. Sloluck was on Alcatraz until February 1878 (the longest stay of any of the Indian prisoners on Alcatraz) when he was sent to Fort Leavenworth and then on to join the remaining Modoc people then exiled in Indian Territory.

1874 - Natchez Winnemucca of the Paiute nation spent two weeks on Alcatraz.

1881 - Two Paiutes, Richard Dick and Pete arrived at Alcatraz.

Two "Indian scouts" arrived for their participation in a mutiny in Arizona Territory and were released in June 1884

1884 - A young chief, Kaetena of the Chiricachua Apaches was imprisoned at Alcatraz after an altercation with federal troops. After his release in March 1886, a spokesman noted that "His stay on Alcatraz has worked a complete reformation in his character."

1889 - Skolaskin tried to escape from Fort Huachuca, landing him on the island until July1892.

1895 - The largest group of Indian prisoners, 19 Hopi "hostiles" were sent to Alcatraz because they would not farm as the government instructed them to while at boarding school and because they opposed forced education in government boarding schools. Photo of 19 Hopi prisoners at Alcatraz in 1895On Alcatraz they were to be "held in confinement, at hard labor, until . . . they shall show . . . they fully realize the error of their evil ways . . . until they shall evince, in an unmistakable manner, a desire to cease interference with the plans of the government for the civilization and education of its indian wards." In August, the nineteen were returned to Hopi after promises to obey all orders were extracted.

1934 - Alcatraz opened as a Unites Stated Federal Penitentiary.

1963 - The federal government closed Alcatraz and declared that it was surplus federal property.

1964 - On March 4, five Sioux Indians claimed the right to occupy Alcatraz based on the Fort Laramie 1868 Treaty enabling Sioux Indians to take possession of surplus federal land. They occupied Alcatraz for four hours, calling for the island's transformation into a cultural center and an Indian university.

1969 - Mohawk Indian Richard Oakes led an attempt to occupy Alcatraz Island twice in one day. Fourteen Native Americans stayed overnight and left peacefully the following morning.

On November 20, the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz began when approximately 80-90 American Indians took over the island. photo of Alcatraz ProclamationBecause they belonged to many different Indian tribes, the occupiers called themselves Indians of All Tribes. The Indian occupants delivered the Alcatraz Proclamation in which they proposed to "purchase said Alcatraz Island for 24 dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago."

In December, AIM members, led by co-founder Dennis Banks, arrived at Alcatraz. After two weeks, they returned to Minneapolis with new ideas learned from the Indians of All Nations occupation at Alcatraz about confrontational activism and land seizure as a tool to confront the federal government's Indian policies.

In December, John Trudell's "Radio Free Alcatraz." Activist John Trudell began his live broadcast from Alcatraz. Trudell would go on to become the president of AIM, as well as a known activist at Wounded Knee II, and talented musician.

1971 - On June 11, the 15 remaining Alcatraz occupiers were escorted off the island by U.S. marshals and FBI agents, officially ending the 19-month, nine-day long occupation.

1975 - The First Un-Thanksgiving Day. Indian people gathered on Alcatraz Island on what is called "Un-Thanksgiving Day" to honor the Un-Thanksgiving at Alcatraz 2010 posteroccupation and those who continued to fight for Native American rights today.

1999 - Return to Alcatraz. In October, nearly 2000 American Indians, Canadian First Nation peoples and Alaskan Natives returned to Alcatraz, some for the first time since 1969, to mark the 30th anniversary of the occupation during a day of spiritual, cultural and musical celebration.

2008 - Un-Thanksgiving at Alcatraz.

2009 - Un-Thanksgiving at Alcatraz. Indian people from throughout the nation celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Indians of all Tribes takeover of Alcatraz.

2010 - Un-Thanksgiving at Alcatraz.

2014 - Un-Thanksgiving celebrated at Alcatraz

Goal #5: To understand the achievements of the Red Power Movement and AIM

So, just how effective was the Red Power Movement? AIM co-founder, Dennis Banks, summurizes thehistory and the achivements of the Red Power Movement, especially through the activism of AIM:

"When AIM was founded on July 28, 1968, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the living conditions we found ourselves in were deplorable. It wasn't that we didn't know there was racism in the cities. It was how racism forced us into squalid slum tenement buildings, closed doors to job opportunities, and fostered racist laws, jails, courts, and prisons. Beginning with our founding meeting, we immediately set out to bring about change in those institutions of public concern: housing, education, employment, welfare, and the courts.

Because we took to the streets and began demonstrating with signs, placards, and bullhorns, the media termed us militants, activists, and outsiders. Not once did they admit to the many wrongs we faced daily. Image of Red Power posterNot once did the Minneapolis and St. Paul papers run editorials agreeing with our positions. But this negative reporting didn't stop our campaign to challenge the employment picture of Native People nor attack the slum housing conditions, the de-humanizing handling of Native People on welfare, the racist and discriminating practices in the police department, sheriff's department, courts, and prison system. Fifty percent of the 1,000 inmates in Minnesota prisons were Native People, yet the ratio of Native People living in Minnesota was (like now) only one percent. It was shameful.

In 1971 we opened our first Native Peoples' survival school in Minneapolis. That same year we founded - with joint efforts of the black community - the Legal Rights Center. A welfare rights and reform committee was established, as well as a jobs and jobs-training task force. We began monitoring the police arrests through our AIM Patrol and assigned observers to the city, country, and state courts. We notified prison officials of our campaign and formed a Prison Watch to notify us of Native inmate traffic. We began to move and results began to emerge. AIM never let us. Never will.

Today, because of AIM, more than 20,000 Native People have received legal assistance through the Legal Rights Center. The job training turned into the Indian Industrialization Center, which has trained more than 5,000 Native People and has placed over 8,000 people into jobs still being held. Native People are employed by the courts and the police. The prisons are no longer disproportionately crowded with Native People. Yet, we still have many social problems like alcoholism, drug abuse, and gang violence. And like the 1960s, we as Native People must band together, as parents, grandparents, and teachers, to provide solutions to these problems and provide direction for the future....

AIM has worked night and day to bring about much-needed change. In order to bring about meaningful change, we also have to educate and re-educate ourselves. That's why I call upon Native People to share their information with each other. I believe sharing is perhaps the last real action we have to help each other....

An eagle is an eagle, still practicing the ways of his ancestors, long since gone. The beaver still makes his home along the streams and creeks of our land. The buffalo still teaches its young and the salmon still travels the thousands of miles to spawn its future generations. If we Native People are to survive as a cultural species, then we must follow the way of our ancestors. We must continue to sing the songs and have ceremonies to welcome each day. Like the eagle and the buffalo, we must never abandon our old ways. Those ways have been good to us and they will provide us with direction for our future generations. Like an eagle flying high, we are who we are. Still strong!

Our land struggle will always be going on, and we must always support those issues related to our lands. If, however, we cannot rise to the occasion of developing ourselves for the land, then perhaps we must back up and face the struggle of social behavior head-on. In the end that's what we must ultimately do. Face the Struggle and Accept the Challenge.

Once we do that, who cares what they call us?"

(As quoted in Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., Joane Nagel, and Troy Johnson (eds.), Red Power: The American Indians' Fight for Freedom. Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1999:60-62.

Red Power posterHow effective was the Red Power Movement in general?

  1. Reversal of the federal termination policy - this is especially relevant to California since today, there are 107 federally recognized Indian nations in the state.
  2. Adoption of self-determination policies through passage of several federal laws.
  3. Renewal of and recommitment to tribal traditions which specifically resulted in the

But these changes have been slow. Especially slow has been the federal government's willingness to remove barriers in the way of American Indian Nations' full exercise of sovereignty.

Conclusions - Red Power in California

  1. While Indian activism that promoted changes in Indian policy began almost immediately after European contact, it was not until the 20th Century that national activist efforts began.
  2. The first large-scale, national Indian activist effort occurred in California - the occupation of Alcatraz Island - and was responsible for beginning of the Red Power movement.
  3. The Red Power movement achieved some notable successes:
  4. Although the organized Red Power Movement had faded away by the end of the 1970s, it left an important historical legacy - continued Indian activism at state and local levels which ensured that the public was aware of the injustices experienced by American Indians across the nation and at the same time, the U.S. Congress began enacting legislation designed to bring self-determination back to the Indian people.
  5. Changes will continue to evolve throughout the 21st Century as long as Indian activism stays alive and non-Indians continue to have a better understanding of the issues facing Indian Country today.
  6. Currently, Indian Country is experiencing an economic resurgence despite decades of dependence on the federal government.
  7. Two of the largest social issues in Indian Country today are the use of American Indian stereotypes and their influence in historical trauma and the use of Indian mascots in high school, college, and professional sports.
  8. Indian activism is not dead!! But the issues are not widely known outside of Indian Country. Today, several issues should be understood: