In 2016, thousands of Native Americans traveled to Standing Rock, North Dakota in an attempt to halt the construction of a controversial pipeline through tribal lands. It was the second time in the past fifty years that members of hundreds of different tribes came together for the same cause. The first was on Alcatraz Island, and it lasted for 19 months.
For many, the Occupation of Alcatraz is an unknown part of the island’s long history, but for Native Americans, the occupation was a turning point in the fight to preserve tribal sovereignty and treaty rights. In 1969, more than 80 Native Americans sailed to Alcatraz by boat. Their mission was to reclaim the island from the federal government. Alcatraz Island was not always the home of a federal prison. Long before the United States took claim of the San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz belonged to the Ohlone Tribe. When the federal prison closed in the early 1960s, a group called ‘Indians of All Tribes’ set out to take back the land. After 19 months, the occupation ended, and in the years to follow, the federal government return of millions of acres to tribes across the country.
Nearly five decades later, the fight to protect tribal land continues today at Standing Rock. After almost a year of push back from Native American tribes, the U.S. government shutdown the Standing Rock camps to move forward with the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The tribes, however, are demanding to be heard and will not fall back until the federal government acknowledges the injustices against Native people and their rights.