Thursday, November 17, 2011

When I Think of November

When I think of November, I think of Richard Oakes and Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, leaders of the Native American Occupation Alcatraz movement of 1969. It was on November 9, 1969 they decided to retake the old jail house island based on the treaty's the American Indians made with the United States government, which stated any unused federal land goes back to the Native American tribes.

For 2 years, local Native American college students from SFSU & UCLA held that island until the last 15 occupants were removed in 1971. There are many accounts and books written on the event.

Being from the Bay Area I was lucky to grow up with community members who took part in the Occupation. In the 7th grade, I remember Shirley Guevera (Mono) taking us on a school trip to Alcatraz and giving us her account on what happened. She showed us which prison rooms they stayed in, where they cooked, and telling us about the cause. If anyone has ever visited Alcatraz, there's usually a tour guide service to give an account of the history of the island and on that day, the regular tour guide followed our group as a listener, I'll never forget how special that made us all feel.

The Alcatraz Occupation was an important era in current Native American history:

"While Oakes and his followers did not succeed in obtaining the island, they did affect U.S. policy and the treatment of Indians. As a result of the occupation, the official U.S. government policy of termination of Indian tribes was ended and replaced by a policy of Indian self-determination" . (Wikipedia)

Richard Oakes (Mohawk) circ 1970

Richard Oakes led a short but very inspirational life:

Oakes was shot and killed by a man named Michael Morgan, a YMCA camp manager. Morgan had a reputation for being rough with Indian kids, and apparently did so again in Oakes' presence. Oakes reportedly confronted him, and Morgan responded by drawing a handgun and fatally shooting him. Morgan was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Six months later, charges against Morgan were dropped on the grounds that Oakes had moved aggressively toward him. [2] Oakes died September 20, 1972 in Sonoma, California at the age of 31.[3] (Wikipedia)

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall (Red Lake Chippewa) & his wife Bobbi (Paiute) circ 1960's

I will say this about Adam, the man did beat me to the punch. It's always been my dream to visit England, stick a Native flag into their soil and declare their home Native American country and wouldn't you know it, he did it, several times in fact.

The most infamous place he did it was in Italy, which the Miami News 1973 hailed it, The Discovery of Italy:

"An interesting switch was pulled yesterday by Adam Nordwall, an american Chippewa chief. As he descended his plane from California dressed in full tribal regalia, Nordwall announced in the name of the American Indian people that he was taking possession of Italy 'by right of discovery' in the same way Christopher Columbus did in America. 'I proclaim this day the day of discovery of Italy,' said Nordwall. 'What right did Columbus have to discover America when it had already been inhabited for thousands of years? The same right I now have to come to Italy and proclaim the discovery of your country" . (Miami News 1973)

When the Vatican press got hold of Adam's stunt, the Pope requested a meeting with Adam and on Adam's first sight with his holiness, the Pope extended his ring to Adam and do you guys know what Adam did, he said, "I extended my hand and showed him my turquoise ring" . (KQED)

Adam is one bad dude, now it looks like I'll have to find another way to relive my dream, I guess I can still contract syphilis and spread it around the EU?

On a side note, the SFSU Native American student club asked me to perform and close out there, "We're not a Costume" , exhibit tomorrow evening, it really does feel nice to be apart of something special!

Happy Native American Heritage Month everyone!



  1. Wow! Thanks for posting such interesting ideas about my family charlie :)

  2. "Morgan had a reputation for being rough with Indian kids"
    Sounds like pedo