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Exploring the sound, music of the 1969 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz

Observe Berkeley Voices, a Berkeley Information podcast concerning the individuals and analysis that makes UC Berkeley the world-changing place that it’s. Evaluate us on Apple Podcasts.

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On Nov. 20, 1969, a bunch of Indigenous Individuals that referred to as itself Indians of All Tribes took boats within the early morning hours to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The 19-month occupation that adopted could be thought to be one of many best acts of political resistance in American Indian historical past.

UC Berkeley Ph.D. ethnomusicology scholar Everardo Reyes’ analysis seems at how sound and music had been used through the takeover to seize mass consideration and amplify the Purple Energy motion, a civil rights motion shaped by Native American youth within the second half of the twentieth century. And Reyes explores how the occupation of Alcatraz — together with different acts of political resistance — led to huge modifications in federal Indian coverage.


black and white photo of nine people standing in front of a wall in 1969 that reads "Indian Land" written in paint

Members of the activist group Indians of All Tribes stand on Alcatraz Island on Nov. 25, 1969, 5 days after the occupation started. (AP Photograph)

Learn a transcript of Berkeley Voices episode 102: Exploring the sound, music of the 1969 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz.

[Music: “Cornicob” by Blue Dot Sessions]

Narration: On Nov. 20, 1969, a bunch of Indigenous Individuals that referred to as itself Indians of All Tribes took boats within the early morning hours to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay.

The federal jail on Alcatraz had been closed for six years, and the 89 protesters aimed to occupy the island, stating that the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie required that unused federal land be given again to Native Individuals.

This was taking place at a time when Native American livelihoods and cultures had been acutely threatened by ongoing termination insurance policies wherein the U.S. authorities terminated the standing of greater than 100 tribes, withdrawing help and providers and seizing tens of millions of acres of Place of birth.

Lots of the protesters had been Bay Space faculty college students, together with two of the group’s leaders: Richard Oakes, an Akwesasne Mohawk, from San Francisco State College, and LaNada Battle Jack, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who was attending UC Berkeley.

Because the activists neared Alcatraz, they bypassed a Coast Guard blockade, which had been arrange after earlier takeover makes an attempt.

The group made it to Alcatraz Island and took it over. The occupation would turn out to be one of many best acts of political resistance in American Indian historical past.

I’m Anne Brice and that is Berkeley Voices.

As soon as they had been on the island, the occupiers issued a proclamation to President Richard Nixon and the United Nations that stated they’d buy the 16 acres of land for $24 in glass beads and purple fabric, an equal worth to what the U.S. authorities paid for Manhattan 300 years earlier than.

Everardo Reyes is a fourth-year Ph.D. scholar in ethnomusicology in Berkeley’s Division of Music.

Everardo Reyes: What finally ends up taking place once they first take it over is there’s simply a lot assist from individuals inside the Bay Space. They begin getting turbines. They get meals shipped in, and there’s powwow drumming. That is the stuff in my analysis that I’m attempting to uncover now. They’d conferences and budgets. They’d enormous plans for the island to actually simply turn out to be this superb cultural middle.

Narration: Reyes’ analysis seems at how sound and music had been used through the takeover to seize mass consideration and amplify the Purple Energy motion, a civil rights motion shaped by Native American youth within the second half of the twentieth century. And Reyes explores how the occupation of Alcatraz — together with different acts of political resistance — led to huge modifications in federal Indian coverage.

Everardo Reyes: Richard Oakes talks about, in interviews, that the power to play Indigenous Native American music on the island was simply so elementary in that first month that they had been there.

And he talks about how they had been enjoying music all night time lengthy across the drum — that it was bringing collectively Native American individuals from throughout the US, but additionally Indigenous individuals from Mexico and Canada and South America. So, music is simply so elementary in bringing collectively communities on this intertribal connection.

Narration: Because the takeover gained extra consideration and assist, President Nixon ordered the Coast Guard to play a job of relative non-interference so long as the occupation remained peaceable. At some factors, there have been greater than 400 Native individuals and their supporters on the island.

[Music: “Secret Pocketbook” by Blue Dot Sessions]

The activists on Alcatraz had been reaching and connecting with different Indigenous communities by doing interviews with native and nationwide media, but additionally by broadcasting common experiences of the occupation over the radio.

Utilizing borrowed and donated radio gear, the activists arrange a broadcasting station in the principle cell block. The primary stay broadcast of a present they referred to as “Radio Free Alcatraz” was on Dec. 22, 1969, on KPFA, a station within the metropolis of Berkeley on the Pacifica Community. John Trudell, a Santee Sioux from Nebraska, was host of this system.

Everardo Reyes: So, we see the ways in which radio was used to speak concerning the points taking place on Alcatraz and allowed for the Indians of All Tribes to have the ability to management the narrative and counter false info that was given by the US authorities.

Narration: Every episode of “Radio Free Alcatraz” started with Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie singing, “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone.”

Music: “Now that that Buffalo’s Gone” by Buffy Sainte-Marie:

Are you able to keep in mind the instances 

That you’ve got held your head excessive?  

And informed all your folks of your Indian declare

Proud good girl and proud good man

Your great-great-grandfather from Indian blood sprang

And you’re feeling in your coronary heart for these ones

Oh it’s written in books and in songs

That we’ve been mistreated and wronged

Properly again and again I hear those self same phrases (fades)

John Trudell: Good night, and welcome to Indian Land radio from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. That is John Trudell on behalf of the Indians of All Tribes welcoming you.]

Within the broadcasts, Trudell typically spoke to protesters on the island about why they had been concerned within the occupation and about their activism for American Indian rights.

Right here he’s in January 1970 speaking to Battle Jack, who, two years earlier, was the primary Native American scholar to be admitted to Berkeley. And in early 1969, she was a pacesetter of the Third World Liberation Entrance strikes on campus, which resulted within the first ethnic research programs to be included within the college’s curricula.

Jan. 19, 1970 episode of “Radio Free Alcatraz” from Pacifica Radio Archives:

John Trudell: LaNada is a scholar on the College of California at Berkeley, and I perceive LaNada had some hassle there final spring due to the Native research programs. Would you care to inform us about that, LaNada? I heard you had been arrested there.

LaNada Battle Jack: Sure, I used to be concerned within the Third World Strike at Berkeley for Native American research. I used to be arrested for felonious assault on an officer, which I perceive is the standard cost that they cost a number of the strike individuals with. (Younger little one makes sounds) My son is simply leaving… (she laughs)

Narration: Within the broadcasts, Trudell mentioned methods the federal authorities was violating Native American rights — by limiting searching entry, setting unfair costs on tribal lands, eradicating Native American youngsters from native faculties and offering inhumane circumstances on reservations — to call only a few.

Right here’s an episode wherein Trudell interviews Burnell Blindman, a Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and a scholar in social welfare at Berkeley.

Dec. 31, 1969 episode of “Radio Free Alcatraz” from Pacifica Radio Archives:

John Trudell: I’ve by no means been to Pine Ridge. Now, I’ve been to the Rosebud Reservation, my reservation, Sioux reservation, is in Nebraska, and I understand how circumstances are there. However, how are the work alternatives at Pine Ridge for Indian individuals?

Burnell Blindman: There isn’t any work on a reservation.

John Trudell: OK, right here’s one factor I’d prefer to clear up: I do know this used to occur to me. Folks discover out I’m Indian and would inform me how fortunate I used to be as a result of I had the federal government to handle me. Someplace alongside the road, they consider I used to get these incredible checks of nice quantities of cash to only do with as I happy. This isn’t true, is it?

Burnell Blindman: No. Not on the reservation.

John Trudell: I do know at house on our reservation, the older individuals stay on social safety and authorities commodities.

Burnell Blindman: That’s about all they stay on on the reservation. Most individuals. Besides the individuals who work for the welfare.

John Trudell: Now, at Pine Ridge, didn’t the federal government arrange new housing there a number of years again, three or 4 years in the past?

Burnell Blindman: Sure, however most of them are arrange for the individuals who work for the federal government as a result of they will afford to pay for it.

And over the radio, Trudell learn excerpts from books by Native authors and talked about different Indigenous activist teams throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Everardo Reyes: There’s an episode that’s broadcasted on Jan. 13 of 1970. In it, John Trudell is studying one thing referred to as the NARP e-newsletter. It’s a bigger newspaper that’s circulated inside Canada, and it talks about First Nation points.

Narration: Reyes was first impressed to analysis the influence of sound and music of the Alcatraz motion after taking a number of Berkeley lessons — together with one referred to as Indigenous Musics in Sudden Locations — taught by John-Carlos Perea, who final yr was a visiting affiliate professor in Berkeley’s Division of Music. Perea was born in Dulce, New Mexico, and grew up within the Bay Space.

John-Carlos Perea: The position of Indians of All Tribes in bringing in an intertribal American Indian voice to that point interval within the Bay Space — that was central to me rising up, proper? When it comes to, I might hear individuals discuss Alcatraz. I might hear individuals seek advice from the significance of Alcatraz.

Narration: Perea is chair and affiliate professor of American Indian research within the Faculty of Ethnic Research at San Francisco State College, the place he was an undergraduate scholar within the Nineties. He remembers watching footage of the activist-students talking from Alcatraz.

John-Carlos Perea: And being so extremely sensible in exhibiting what you are able to do, not simply with teachers, however with tradition, with humor, with artwork, proper? They confirmed a sort of change and continued to indicate, for me, a sort of change that I very a lot determine with.

Narration: Perea earned his grasp’s and doctorate in music from UC Berkeley in 2005 and 2009, respectively. He’s a part of the third technology of Native-identifying college students within the nation to earn a music analysis Ph.D., alongside together with his spouse, Jessica Bissett (Biss-it) Perea, a professor of Native American research at UC Davis.

John-Carlos Perea: That’s simply the Ph.D., proper? If we went again additional, and we checked out people who each got here earlier than us, who had been working with a number of the people which might be thought-about founders of the sphere, however who don’t get the credit score in the identical manner. For instance, enthusiastic about people like Francis La Flesche, as only one particular person, then we’ve got many extra generations who’ve come earlier than us, by way of who’ve participated.

However simply by way of institutional historical past, being in a division and pursuing these levels, we perceive, so far as the analysis we’ve finished to date, that we’re solely the third technology of Native-identified individuals with music analysis Ph.D.s.

Narration: Perea says music was central in creating intertribal connections on Alcatraz and in sharing the experiences of American Indians within the U.S.

John-Carlos Perea: Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone” and people songs in that point interval for her, they had been historic paperwork. She was writing about what was happening. After which she was getting on stage and singing it. She was enjoying a tune, however she was additionally doing the information, proper? I imply, she was actually, you recognize, telling individuals what was happening.

Narration: Right here’s Sainte-Marie performing “Hey, Little Hen” for “Radio Free Alcatraz” on Jan. 14, 1970.

Narration: For Grammy Award-winner Perea, who this yr is constant his collaborative work on the Berkeley campus with the Heart for New Music and Audio Applied sciences, says creating and performing music as we speak isn’t about leaving the previous behind, however including to it — remembering the tales of those that got here earlier than him and constructing on these tales. Then, sharing the tales with others.

Final spring, Perea and Reyes carried out collectively in Hertz Corridor at Berkeley — Perea on the cedar flute and Reyes on the guitar — as a part of the music division’s 69th Annual Midday Live performance Collection.

John-Carlos Perea: I’ve an auntie who as soon as stated to me, “Once you rise up there, you’re up there with all of the individuals previously, even the individuals you don’t know who made it potential so that you can be right here and who, in some circumstances, died so that you can be right here.”

We now have a accountability to proceed remembering, proceed telling these tales, to proceed studying new tales and to proceed ensuring these turn out to be an element … as an accumulative course of. We’ve acquired to attempt to keep in mind as a lot as we will. It’s all the time going to be incomplete, which is why we want one another, as a result of in that sense, these totally different energies coming collectively enable for that larger understanding.

Narration: It’s what Reyes goals to do together with his analysis — to recollect the tales of the activists on Alcatraz, and to discover how music, radio and different sounds from the occupation influenced and proceed to affect Indigenous activism and legal guidelines regarding Indian tribal coverage as we speak.

The occupation of Alcatraz ended after 19 months on June 11, 1971. Management struggles and interlopers not devoted to the trigger had been a number of the issues that led to the protest’s decline. On the finish, the federal authorities eliminated the final 15 or so protesters nonetheless on the island.

Though the occupiers weren’t granted possession of the island, the protest — which individuals might observe by listening to “Radio Free Alcatraz” — was a catalyst for many years of Indigenous activism and was a turning level towards Native American self-determination.

In 1975, President Nixon ended the termination legal guidelines and applied the Indian Self-Willpower and Schooling Help Act, giving again tribes’ rights to manipulate themselves. He additionally funded nationwide insurance policies for Indian tribes, which recovered tens of millions of their acres of land.
Lots of the activists concerned within the occupation of Alcatraz went on to take part in different demonstrations and actions, notably inside the American Indian Motion.

In 2016, Indigenous protesters stopped the development — at the least, for now — of the Dakota Entry Pipeline by means of unceded Native lands on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.
LaNada Battle Jack has stated the protest was consultant of the spirit of resistance on Alcatraz many years earlier than.

The battle for Indigenous rights, says Reyes, is way from over. And the occupation of Alcatraz — in his view — isn’t over both.

Everardo Reyes: So, there’s nonetheless quite a lot of activism taking place round it. And, you recognize, there’s a superb line between activism and analysis generally, proper? Or, generally there isn’t. And so, it’s laborious to know or laborious to say: May Alcatraz occur once more? I’m not fully satisfied that Alcatraz is over, proper? I nonetheless suppose it’s an ongoing occupation.

Narration: Yearly since 1975, Indigenous individuals and allies have gone again to Alcatraz Island to take part in a dawn ceremony to honor the reminiscence of the 1969 stand.

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