|Alcatraz is Not an Island: Press Release|
"Alcatraz is not an island...Alcatraz is an inspiration, it is the idea that you can control your own destiny, and self-determine your own future."
Richard Oakes, Mohawk
"The government did all these things and sat on tribes for so many years...and yet still, in 1969, there's still a group of people who were willing to stand up and say, we want our freedom. We want to be Native people. We want our own governments. We want the right to self determination. It's a revolutionary act."
Wilma Mankiller, Cherokee
ITVS and KQED Present Jon Plutte and James M. Fortier's ALCATRAZ IS NOT AN ISLAND to Air Nationally on PBS November 7, 2002 at 10:00pm
Airs in the Bay Area on KQED Public Television 9 on Tuesday, November 5 at 10 p.m.
The first in-depth look at the history, politics, personalities, and cultural reawakening of the 196971 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, CAIndependent Television Service (ITVS) and KQED Public Broadcasting present director James M. Fortier and producer Jon Plutte's one–hour public television documentary Alcatraz Is Not an Island with Law and Order star Benjamin Bratt (Quechua) providing voice-over narration. Alcatraz Is Not an Island won the Best Documentary Feature award at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, was a Land Grant Award Finalist at the 2001 Taos Talking Pictures Festival and was an official selection for the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. The film will premiere nationwide on PBS on November 7, 2002 at 10:00pm (check local listings), and is a co-presentation of ITVS and KQED. Additional funding was provided by the California Council for the Humanities, the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians, and the Muscogee Creek Tribe of Oklahoma.
The filmmakers are also working with ITVS to develop a community outreach program to bring the film directly to reservation and urban Indian communities with an emphasis on Native youth, as well as educational institutions, and human rights and social activism venues.
The occupation of Alcatraz was not just an Indian story, but a story of people seizing control of their own futures though social and political activism. In these times of questioning and reexamination of the role of activism in America, the 1969 Indian occupation of Alcatraz reminds us that there is a place for action in the political world, and that positive change can be made in the face of overwhelming government resistance. This is an opportunity to educate, to continue a dialogue discussing these issues, to inspire the next generation of activists, and perhaps most importantly, to honor those who have sacrificed so much and dedicated their lives for the advancement of all free people.
About the Film
For thousands of Native Americas, the infamous Alcatraz is not an island...it is an inspiration. After generations of oppression, assimilation, and near genocide, a small group of Native American students and "Urban Indians" began the occupation of Alcatraz Island in November 1969. They were eventually joined by thousands of Native Americans, retaking "Indian land" for the first time since the 1880s. Alcatraz Is Not an Island is the story of how this historic event altered U.S. Government Indian policy and programs, and how it forever changed the way Native Americans viewed themselves, their culture and their sovereign rights. The story of the occupation of Alcatraz is as complex and rich as the history of Native Americans. This documentary examines the personal sacrifices, tragedies, social battles and political injustices many Native Americans experienced under the United States Government's policies of assimilation, termination and relocationall eventually leading to Alcatraz. Out of Alcatraz came the "Red Power" movement of the 1970s, which has been called the lost chapter of the Civil Rights era. Thirty years after the take over of Alcatraz, Alcatraz Is Not an Island provides the first in-depth look at the history, politics, personalities and cultural reawakening behind this historic event, which sparked a new era of Native American political empowerment, and a cultural renaissance.
Among the many people interviewed for the production of Alcatraz Is Not an Island are occupation leaders John Trudell, Dr. LaNada Boyer and Adam Fortunate Eagle, along with several other prominent participants, including Wilma Mankiller, Grace Thorpe, Leonard Garment and Brad Patterson. Associate Producer and Historical Consultant Dr. Troy Johnson and Native American author/historian Robert Warrior provide much of the historical commentary in the film. Also included in the documentary is an abundance of historical photos by Michelle Vignes and Ilka Hartmann and archival 16 mm footagemuch of which has never been seen by the public.
Alcatraz Is Not an Island is directed by James M. Fortier (Metis-Ojibway), and produced by Jon Plutte. The Executive Producer is Millie Ketcheshawno (Mvskoke), and the Associate Producer and Historical Consultant is Dr. Troy Johnson. Alcatraz Is Not an Island was edited by Mike Yearling. Writers are James M. Fortier, Jon Plutte, and Mike Yearling with Dr. Troy Johnson and Millie Ketcheshawno. Original music was provided by Jim Wilson (Choctaw), and the documentary is narrated by Benjamin Bratt, with additional voice work provided by Ojibway recording artists Wayquay. The soundtrack also features Native American performers Quilt Man, Koljademo, Douglas Spotted Eagle, Keith Secola, Ulali, and Juno Award (Canadian Grammies) winner Jerry Alfred and the Medicine Beat, among others.
The film features Peter Bowen, Dr. LaNada Boyer (Shosone-Bannock), Edward Castillo (Cahuilla-Luiseno), Tim Findley, Adam Fortunate Eagle (Anishinabe-Ojibway), Robert Free (Tewa), Leonard Garment, Shirley Guervara (Mono), Dr. Troy Johnson, Millie Ketcheshawno (Mvskoke), Wilma Mankiller (Cherokee), Alan Miller (Seminole), Don Patterson (Tonkawa), Brad Patterson, Denise Quitiquit (Pomo), Grace Thorpe (Sac & Fox), Brookes Townes, John Trudell (Santee Sioux), Susan Tsosie (Yurok), Robert Warrior (Osage) & Ed Willie (Paiute-Pomo).
Occupation Background Summary:
In the 1950s, after decades of failed policies and programs, the U.S. government under President Eisenhower implemented the Relocation/Termination Programs as the official Indian policy of the Federal Government. These two programs were designed to lure Indian people off the reservations and into major cities, such as San Francisco, in order to complete the assimilation and acculturation of Native Americans. By the mid-1960s the San Francisco Bay Area’s urban Indian community was one of the largest and best organized in the country.
Rather than dissolving into the urban "melting pot," Bay Area Indians tenaciously clung to their cultures, formed social and political organizations, and began to mobilize. Echoing the Free Speech, Civil Rights and anti-war struggles and other social justice movements, Bay Area Indians began their own protest of Indian treaty and civil rights abuses. On November 20, 1969, following two previously unsuccessful occupation attempts, a group of Native American students from various California Universities, with support from Bay Area Indian organizations and leaders, began the nineteen-month occupation of Alcatraz Island. Today, the Indian people whose lives were most affected by the occupation regard it as perhaps the most important event in the post-reservation struggle for Indian land, treaty, and civil rights.
Nearly 30 years after the occupation, many historians identify the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz Island as the spark which ignited the "Red Power" movement of the 1970s.
"Following Alcatraz, there's the occupation of other, over 50 other federal facilities (by Indian people) for a total, in the seventies, of some 72 occupations that would take place. Many of these are either led by people who came from Alcatraz or they were participated in by people who came from Alcatraz or they said they were inspired by Alcatraz. Thirty years later, the Alcatraz occupation is now considered the lost chapter of the 1960s civil rights era."
Dr. Troy Johnson, CSU, Long Beach
The occupation of Alcatraz was, however, much more than just a political movement for the many Native Americans who were there, and for Native Americans who heard and talked about it on reservations and in cities across the country. Many Indian people now consider it a renaissance for Indian culture, traditions, identity and spirituality.
"Alcatraz was symbolic in the rebirth of Indian people to be recognized as a people, as human beings, whereas before, we were not. We were not recognized, we were not legitimate...but we were able to raise, not only the consciousness of other American people, but our own people as well, to reestablish our identity as Indian people, as a culture, as political entities."
Dr. LaNada Boyer (Shoshone-Bannock) /Occupation Leader
The occupation literally changed the lives of Indian people, giving rise to what many Native Americans and their supporters refer to as the "legacy" of the Alcatraz occupation. With the passage of time, it has taken on the characteristics of a Native American oral legend. With a cast of colorful characters, mythic heroes, conflict, suspense, euphoria and tragedy, the occupation is a dramatic and compelling story.
"What Alcatraz started out to be was one thing, and what it became was another.
There's no question that the physical occupation of Alcatraz was in some ways
flawed and in some ways disastrous, even. And yet, the spiritual meaning of the
occupation of Alcatraz and its impact on Native American people and Native American
spirituality and politics was greater than that."
Tim Findley, Former Reporter, SF Chronicle
"Grandfather said that long ago the Sacramento Valley was one freshwater lake. An angry spirit within the earth caused a great shaking which emptied the great lake and left only the San Francisco Bay in its wake. There, in isolation and containing a "truth" was an island. According to our oral histories, that's where we were told to go and search for a healing treasure for our troubled people long ago. The island became known as "the rock with the rainbow inside," or "diamond island." It was said that the "diamond" would heal and restore balance to all our people, everywhere. We were always told that the "diamond" was a thought, or a truth. It was not jewelry. It sparkled and it shined, but it was not jewelry. It was much more."
Darryl "Babe" Wilson (Achoma Wi / Atsuge Wi)
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