President Truman appointed Dillon S. Myer to be Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1950 on the strength of his performance as head of the War Relocation Authority during World War II [which was in charge of Japanese internment]. . . . As Indian Commissioner, Myer stepped up efforts to end the government's involvement in Indian work. . . . [Indian reservations] would disappear, and the areas would fall under the jurisdiction of whatever states and counties they were in--a policy ominously called termination.
Simultaneously, the government pursued a related policy called relocation, through which it encouraged Indians to abandon their lives on reservations for supposedly brighter futures in America's booming cities. . . .
The remarkable--if perplexing--story of Alcatraz was hardly the first moment of mid- to late-twentieth century Indian radicalism. . . . Since the late 1950s, student groups had been working on campuses and in communities, producing cohorts of college-educated tribal officials and administrators. At the same time, traditional people and local poor and working-class people had been getting to know each other around the country and staging courageous, if often ignored, protests. Indians in the cities were organizing themselves into impressive organizations that could swing deals with city halls. . . .
When the press painted Alcatraz as the story of the Indian world suddenly and unexpectedly waking up, joining the rest of the armies of the discontented in protest politics, they chose flashier copy over a reasoned recitation of just how much struggle, how much sacrifice, and how much rock-hard tenacity had gone into trying to make things better for Indian people long before Indians of All Tribes set foot on Alcatraz.
We, the Native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery.
We wish to be fair and honorable in our dealings with the Caucasian inhabitants of this land, and hereby offer the following treaty:
We will purchase said Alcatraz island for twenty-four dollars (24) in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago.
We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of the land for their own to be held in trust by the American Indian Government and by the Bureau of Caucasian Affairs to hold in perpetuity--for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. We will further guide the inhabitants in the proper way of living. We will offer them our religion, our education, our life-ways, in order to help them achieve our level of civilization and thus raise them and all their white brothers up from their savage and unhappy state.
We feel that this so-called Alcatraz Island is more than suitable for an Indian reservation, as determined by the white man's own standards. By this we mean that this place resembles most Indian reservations in that:
It is isolated from modern facilities, and without adequate means of transportation.
It has no fresh running water.
It has inadequate sanitation facilities.
There are no oil or mineral rights.
There is no industry and so unemployment is very great.
There are no health care facilities.
The soil is rocky and non productive; and the land does not support game.
There are no educational facilities.
The population has always exceeded the land base.
The population has always been held as prisoners and kept dependent upon others.
Further, it would be fitting and symbolic that ships from all over the world, entering the Golden Gate, would first see Indian land, and thus be reminded of the true history of this nation. This tiny island would be a symbol of the great lands once ruled by free and noble Indians.
1. What policies were instituted in the 1950s by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs? How might these policies have affected Native Americans?
2. The authors of the first passage want to emphasize the long struggle and hard work that preceded the takeover of Alcatraz. Why might that be an important point to make?
3. The "Alcatraz Proclamation" is meant to be satirical. Choose a line and explain how it's an example of satire.