The Indigenous occupation of Alcatraz & the Nebraskan who played a key role

Thanksgiving isn't always a celebration for Native Americans
John Trudell
Haaland Alcatraz Island
Posted at 1:06 PM, Nov 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-25 18:49:13-05

OMAHA, Neb. (AP & KMTV) — Fifty-two years ago on Nov. 25, Native Americans were photographed by the Associated Press standing under graffiti welcoming Indigenous people to Alcatraz Island. Two days later, hundreds of people attended a Thanksgiving event on the island celebrating its takeover.

The Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island began on Nov. 20, 1969, when a group of Indigenous students arrived at the nearly-abandoned, infamous prison facility in San Francisco Bay. The occupation lasted until 1971 and among its leaders was John Trudell, a Nebraskan who was a Santee Dakota Sioux and served as the group's spokesman.

John Trudell died in 2015 but his younger brother, Tim Trudell lives in the Omaha area and writes Travels in the Heartland for 3 News Now. Another brother, Roger, is the chairman of the Santee Dakota tribe in Nebraska.

On Saturday, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Alcatraz Island, which became a symbol of the struggles of Native People for self-determination following the occupation. She said progress has been made by Indigenous people, but added that a lot more remains to be done.

Haaland, who is from Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, said that thanks to the actions of those activists, Native Americans no longer have to resort to extreme measures to be heard.

Meanwhile, in Plymouth, Massachusetts members of Native American tribes from around New England are gathering in the seaside town where the Pilgrims settled.

For some Indigenous people, Thursday is National Day of Mourning and they will recall the disease and oppression that European settlers brought to North America. It’s the 52nd year that the United American Indians of New England have organized the event on Thanksgiving Day.

The tradition began in 1970. Organizers say that for many Indigenous people, Thanksgiving “is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands and the erasure of Native cultures.”

Brett Chapman, a lawyer and descendant of Ponca chief Standing Bear, said in a tweet that he prefers to remember stories of survival. Earlier this year, Chapman was part of a campaign to see Standing Bear's tomahawk returned to the Ponca tribe from a museum at Harvard University.

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