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Alcatraz in California

Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act

By Thomas L. Libby

The occupation of Alcatraz leads to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

The 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island ended on June 11, 1971, when federal authorities removed the last 15 people participating in the effort to raise awareness of the injustices Native Americans face.

Nearly 80 American Indians took over the San Francisco Bay landmark in November 1969. “We hold the Rock” soon became the movement’s rallying cry. Thousands of activists, young families, and visionaries eventually participated in the occupation; some stayed the whole time, but most visited for much shorter periods. Participants sought better conditions for the millions of people living on reservations nationwide. (The island’s former federal penitentiary, which once housed the nation’s most notorious criminals, including mobster Al Capone, had closed in 1963. )

Although participants didn’t win any of their immediate demands, such as transferring the “Rock” to native ownership, the occupation spurred significant legal and political changes. It led to passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (25 U.S.C. § 450); creation of the post of Assistant Interior Secretary for Indian Affairs; and revision of the Johnson-O’Malley Act of 1934 (25 U.S.C. § 452) governing federal education funding for Native American schoolchildren. Additional changes resulting from the American Indian Movement – an organization that first took hold at the occupation – include the Indian Financing Act of 1974 (25 U.S.C. §§ 1451-44), which created loan funds for Native Americans and their tribes.

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