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UA students travel to Alcatraz Island to honor protest

By Rachael Myer
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
October 21, 1999
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In 1969, about 100 American Indians occupied the former prison on Alcatraz Island for 19 months, attempting to reclaim the land as their own.

Today and tomorrow, four UA students will return to the island to relive the spark of the American Indian Movement and the celebrate the 30th anniversary of the event.

"It's a chance for the young students to meet their history face-to-face," said Lorri Carrico, the director the University of Arizona's Native American Activities Board. "The whole Native American movement really took root after this."

The occupation of the island near San Francisco - a federal prison until 1963 - was a symbolic effort to show American Indians' sovereignty and to reclaim a land where they had been imprisoned even during the early 1900s.

Participants included members of several tribes - mostly Plains Indians, who were forced to live in the infertile Badlands area in North and South Dakota.

"It was the first time the American public said, 'leave them alone - if they want to go sit on a rock, let them,'" said Carrico, who is a language, reading and culture graduate student.

According to the official Alcatraz Web site, American Indians wanted the deed to the island. The protesters also wanted to establish a university, a cultural center and a museum for the American Indian Movement.

All of the occupancy's participants had a purpose - to provide child care, security, cook or educate, according to the Web site.

The federal government didn't interfere with the occupancy at first, hoping the American Indians would eventually leave. But they were forced out on June 10, 1970 after armed federal marshals, FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies swarmed the site.

Kimberly Arthur, a English literature senior, said she wants to attend the 30th anniversary to learn more about the incident and the movement.

"An opportunity to learn from those who take a stand...(and) claim that I am native and I'm not going to be forgotten," said Arthur, who grew up on the Navajo Reservation.

The group will have a chance on Saturday to speak with John Trudell, a Native American poet and song writer who was involved with the 1969 occupation. They will return photos to him of his deceased wife and child that UA American Indian Studies program facilitator Sylvia Polacca possessed.

Polacca took part in the occupation of Alcatraz and has had the photographs through the years. She was out of town and unavailable for comment yesterday.

"We are really lucky to be able to take these back to him," Carrico said. "I don't know how he'll take them after 30 years."

Carrico said Trudell's wife and child were burned to death by the FBI in 1973 after members of the American Indian Movement reoccupied Wounded Knee in South Dakota.

The four UA students will also listen to other speakers and entertainers and visit San Francisco's Chinatown.

Pennelys Eveningsky-Droz, an interdisciplinary studies junior, said she is looking forward to reuniting with other American Indians, whom she considers to be her relatives.

"When strong native people get together in one place it's great for kids to see," Eveningsky-Droz said.

She said that she marched in Pine Ridge, S.D., this summer to protest the sale of alcohol to American Indians in the community.

"It was really empowering," Eveningsky-Droz said.

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