Native American Activism


Native Americans seek return of Alcatraz Island in 1964, under a treaty between the Sioux and the United States signed in 1868. The land was used for a prison throughout the 20th century but was never returned to Native people. (Donated by Corbis.)

In the 1960s, activists began organizing demonstrations to secure the civil rights of Native Americans, who had been marginalized, disadvantaged, and disproportionately impoverished since the U.S. government completed its policy of “removal” over a century earlier.

On March 8, 1964, Sioux demonstrators occupied Alcatraz Island for four hours, inspiring up to 400 protestors to occupy the island for 18 months to highlight the government’s violation of treaties that required the return of Alcatraz to the Sioux.

In October 1972, the American Indian Movement (AIM) organized a “Trail of Broken Treaties” march to Washington, D.C., where activists occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs until the government agreed to address reforms to treaty policy. AIM later organized “The Longest Walk,” a five-month march from Alcatraz to the Capitol starting on February 11, 1978, to protest anti-treaty legislation. In response, Congress dropped the anti-treaty bill and passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

In 2008, activists from more than 100 American Indian nations again made the “Longest Walk” to D.C. to call attention to their ongoing struggle for sovereignty and for resources to combat the poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness that plague their communities.