How 400+ Indians Occupied Alcatraz And Changed Richard Nixon’s Mind

Native Americans, one named Tim Williams (a chief of the Klamath River Hurek tribe), approaching Alcatraz Island by boat, late 1969 or early 1970. Source: (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

In 1969, American Indians seized Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison in the San Francisco Bay. The group called themselves the Indians Of All Tribes (IOAT), because they were indigenous people from different tribal groups, and their collective defiance of the U.S. government was the biggest action to date of the pan-Indian Red Power movement. The approach of Native activists was a mixture of '60s civil rights tactics -- sometimes it was MLK-style peaceful civil disobedience, at other times they emulated the militancy of Black Panthers. The occupation of Alcatraz made the Indian cause national news, creating leaders on the island and inspiring Natives across the country who watched the story unfold.