The Occupation of Alcatraz was launched by a group of 89 members of the Indians of All Tribes in an attempt to gain control under the Treaty of Fort Laramie that had been signed in 1868. After the prison closed in March 1963 the federal government declared the island surplus federal property, leading the IOAT to demand that it be returned to Native Americans under the terms of the treaty. A number of previous attempts had been made, although the 19 month long Alcatraz Occupation was the longest attempt to seize control.
A fire that destroyed the San Francisco American Indian Center on 10 October acted as the catalyst for the occupation. On 9 November a group of 14 protesters spent the night on the island and claimed ownership “by right of discovery.” Less than two weeks later a group of 89 men, women and children sailed across San Francisco Bay from the city of Sausalito to begin the longer occupation.
Although the majority of the protesters were intercepted by a Coast Guard blockade, over 400 people eventually occupied Alcatraz. Citing the Treaty of Fort Laramie, they demanded control of the island in order to build a Native American cultural centre.
At the start of January 1970 the 13-year old step-daughter of Richard Oakes, one of the occupation’s leaders, fell to her death. The family’s departure from the island coincided with worsening relations between some of the other protesters and, after the government cut off electrical power and telephone lines in late May, numbers dwindled until only a handful of people remained.
The final 15 occupiers were removed by federal marshals on 11 June 1971. Control of Alcatraz was later handed to the National Park Service.