Alcatraz. It's so famous, I mean, geez Sean Connery and Nick Cage were in a movie about it! But, as is so often the case, fact is so much more intriguing than fiction. I didn't see the movie, but I want to know everything about the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz.

When I arrive at the Rock, it is freezing. All those people who tell you California is hot --don't believe them. Not in the middle of the Pacific Ocean it isn't! Okay, Alcatraz is actually in the middle of San Francisco Bay, a little island visible from both the Golden Gate and the Bay bridges. It was used as a federal prison for some of the worst criminals. Now it is home, temporarily anyway, to a few dozen student activists, known as Indians of All Tribes.

They came here to demonstrate about some of the grievences of Urban Indians, like poor housing, welfare dependency and the need for a place to call their own. They spend their days explaining the issues and educating the public, stuff they are used to doing, as Native people who live and work and go to school in a mostly-White world. Only now, they are expaining and educating reporters, so maybe, maybe, it'll make a difference. Maybe Native issues will no longer be ignored. At night, around a fire, after the reporters go home, the activists make plans and imagine a future for themselves.

One idea, to start a college on Alcatraz, really grows on me. The school would be called Thunderbird University and would have a Native faculty who would teach courses from a First Nations perspective: History, Astonomy, Botony. The Native Literature department would give classes in poetry and creative writing. The school could undertake a study of traditional farming techniques, and how to integrate them into modern farming techniques. Remember, corn is The Gift of the Indians. The possibilities seem endless.

I am inspired by the occupation of Alcatraz. The fact that this decrepit, unwelcoming, abandoned island became the place for Indians to imagine an exciting future for themselves, free of the broken promises and mistakes of the past, tells me --and the world-- that we can dream big.

Look at Me!
Imagining Indians