The Day After: Why the Individual Efforts of the Red Power Movement Failed
The United States government's policy of termination served as the powder keg for radical American Indian activism in the 1960's and 1970's. Young Native Americans across tribes and across the nation came together to regain not only their previously pilfered land but also their sense of culture and community. This new era in protest has come to be called the Red Power Movement. Perhaps the most well-know events of the RPM are the Occupation of Alcatraz, the Trail of Broken Treaties/the Occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Occupation of Wounded Knee, 1973. These three incidents undoubtedly garnered substantial media attention and were precursors for eventual reform on the Native American front, but what these protests were not successful in doing is attaining their immediately proposed goals. This project seeks to identify the elements that led to the downfall of the Red Power Movement. This will be accomplished by analyzing its goals, major incidents and longstanding effects. As of now, my running thesis is that the aspect of occupation and the failure of RPM leaders to vary their tactics is what led to their lack of success in attaining immediate goals.
I have chosen the Red Power Movement as my area of focus for it marked the beginning of a new era in American Indian activism, one characterized by a renewed sense of pan-Indian identity, forceful resistance and the act of occupation. Another factor that contributed to my selection of this time period is the fact that there doesn't seem to be continuous activism in the Native American Civil Rights narrative. It is also a movement that is not concentrated in any one area such as the south, which is increasingly fascinating to me. I want to identify why a more unified movement would produce less successful results than the scattered activism of the past. To better position this topic, I will look briefly at instances, prior to my time period, in which American Indian activism proved highly successful. What tactics were used in these movements? How do the organizers and goals of previous movements differ?
My preliminary work on this topic is as stands; I have compiled a comprehensive list of secondary sources surrounding the three major events of the Red Power Movement: The Occupation of Alcatraz, The Trail of Broken Treaties/The Occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Occupation of Wounded Knee, 1973. What these three incidents share is how highly publicized they were, their protest tactic of occupation and the fact that they were, ultimately, unsuccessful. Most of my primary sources focus heavily on laying out the details of these events. A small number of my consulted sources (two to be exact) focus on the longstanding effects of the aforementioned incidents. I have also identified four primary sources that I feel will contribute greatly to the success of my argument. Each of the four primary sources pertains exclusively to one of the three major incidents of the Red Power Movement, highlighting the movements' innermost workings and strategies.
My first primary source is The 'Indians of All Tribes Alcatraz Proclamation of 1969', drafted and signed by members of the Indians of All Tribes. This document basically notifies the United States government of Native American intent to reclaim the island of Alcatraz. Their plan of actions is listed in this document. The following are examples of the documents key points: 1) We will purchase said Alcatraz Island for twenty-four dollars in glass beads and red cloth, a precedent set by the white man's purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago...2) We will give to the inhabitants of this island a portion of the land for their own to be held in trust by the American Indian Affairs and by the bureau of Caucasian Affairs to hold in perpetuity--for as long as the sun shall rise and the rivers go down to the sea. The document goes on to list the condition of Alcatraz Island at the time. This document will be easy for me to find as it is a commonly cited and reproduced. In my case, it was retrieved from a collection of primary sources titled Competing Voices from Native America compiled by Dewi Ioan Ball and Joy Porter. This source will be useful in identifying some of the overarching goals of the RPM.
The second primary source that I will consult was also pulled from Competing Voices from Native America and is titled 'Notes from a Day at Wounded Knee.' This source is a collection of journal entries recorded by freelance photographer/ photojournalist Kevin Barry McKiernan who spent seven weeks on-site during the occupation. The entries span a short amount of time - from dawn until 12:30pm on April 17, 1973. The value in consulting this primary source is that it provides a day-in-the-life-style narrative of the events at Wounded Knee. By looking at these journal excerpts, I can identify some of the successful and not-so-successful tactics of the incident. The fact that the document was produced by someone in the field, but not exclusive to either group (Native Americans vs. FBI), provides me with a more reliable depiction of events.
My last two primary sources deal with media attention surrounding the Red Power Era. Media attention was greatly responsible for Native American reform following the RPM for it exposed the rest of the nation to the American Indian plight, but it focuses little on whether or not the actual goals of the RPM's individual movement's were attained. I will be working with a collection of on-site interviews and news broadcasts from 1969 that featured some of the actual Alcatraz occupiers. This footage can be found at the San Francisco State University Archives, home of the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archives which are accessible via the internet. The specific interviews that I will be looking at originally aired on KQED News on November 24, 1969, but there exists more than three hours of related footage shot by KPIX and KQED. Though I do not have current access to them, strike-related newspapers can be found at the San Francisco State University Archives as well. More than thirty five periodicals exist within this collection; I am more than certain that at least one of them contains information pertaining to the Red Power Movement. However, considering the fact that I have yet to identify the content of these periodicals, I do not count them in my tally of primary sources. Lastly, I will be consulting a newspaper article published on November 11, 1972 by the Washington Post. The article, titled Damage to BIA Third Heaviest Ever in U.S., is a great example of the extent to which Native American activist took their action and how the media and the public perceived these actions.
Historiography related to this topic proves itself to be rather tricky with unbalanced coverage and uncommon literary formats being the most frustrating aspects. Like any other area of history, the Red Power Movement is one with its forerunners (Vine Deloria Jr. and Troy Johnson are the first historians to come to mind) and distinct trends. For starters, the Red Power genre is one that remained relatively untapped until the 1990's. Troy Johnson was one of the first scholars to really get into the Native America Civil Rights genre with his book The Occupation of Alcatraz Island (1996). To date, there exists a significant amount of literature on the Red Power Movement with an abundance of it focusing on the 1969-1971 occupation of Alcatraz Island. Of all the major events of the Red Power Movement, this is definitely the one that is most aptly covered. In terms of trends, the most obvious is the fact that a large number of scholarship on this subject was produced by Native American scholars.
One of my most useful yet controversial sources is a book titled Alcatraz! Alcatraz!: The Indian Occupation of 1969-1971 by Adam Fortunate Eagle. It is an example of a work written by a Native American author, but it also serves as an example of how tricky historiography on this topic can be. The book is written by Eagle in the style of a novel, but claims to describe the Occupation of Alcatraz from a first-hand participant without bias. No sources are cited in this text. It remains a useful tool in terms of identifying a definite timeline of events, but I question whether or not it could be considered a primary or even a secondary source. On the contrary, Eagle's other work Heart of the Rock falls perfectly into the scholarly mold. Like Alcatraz! Alcatraz!, it presents an in-depth look at the occupation of Alcatraz Island, but it is far more credible of a source. I will use this work as my go-to resource on the details of the Alcatraz occupation. with Alcatraz! Alcatraz! being a detailed underscore.
As I mentioned earlier, little scholarship is written on the aftermath of the Red Power Movement. Two sources that I will be using come in the format of a book and a short article. Ghost Dancing the Law: the Wounded Knee Trials by John William Sayer is a book that chronicles the legal action that followed the Wounded Knee occupation. More than anything, this work highlights the consequences that arose out such a radical form of conquest. Though it unlikely, and a research project in and of itself, I would love to be able to examine the court records consulted by Sayer during the construction of this book. These documents are located at Minnesota Historical Society Library should the opportunity to survey them arise. The Bloody Wake of Alcatraz: Political Repression of the American Indian Movement during the 1970's is an article by Ward Churchill. The article is simple and to the point, focusing on the political, institutionalized responses to the Occupation of Alcatraz. It is in sources like this that I find the primary basis for my argument.
I will approach this project, primarily, from a political/policy approach. Most of the literature surrounding this topic takes the cultural history approach and this is of no surprise, for I have not been able to distance myself from this even in these early stages of my research. To deviate from making this solely a social issue, my focus will not be on the nature of the Red Power movement, but instead its mechanics. By looking in-depth at the manner in which these events unfolded and , I can identify their connecting instances and thus the root of their failures.
In conclusion, what this area of history lacks is scholarship on the direct aftermath of the Red Power Movement. This is where my research comes into play. There is a lot of focus on the current conditions of the Native American population and the mainstream attention that the events that the Red Power era garnered, but not the movement's immediate successes and failures. Some individual examples exist, such as Ghost Dancing the Law and the aforementioned article by Ward Churchill, but what is missing is a comprehensive history. Prior to the start of my work on this project, my knowledge of the Red Power Movement (or Native American Civil Rights activism for that matter) was basically non-existent. After surveying what was within my grasps, I realized that there are a number of holes in this field of history. I worry that this area of history is one that is represented by too few viewpoints. I hope that with this project, I am able to better diversify the pool literature on the Red Power Movement.
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Churchill, Ward. "The Bloody Wake of Alcatraz: Political Repression of the American Indian Movement During the 1970s." In American Indian Activism, ed. T. Johnson, Joane Nagel and Duane Champagne., 242-284.
Deloria Jr., Vine. Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.
Eagle, Adam Fortunate. Alcatraz! Alcatraz!: The Indian Occupation of 1969-1971. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1992.
Eagle, Adam Fortunate. Heart of the Rock: the Indian Invasion of Alcatraz. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.
Johnson, Troy. The Occupation of Alcatraz Island: Indian Self-Determination and the Rise of Indian Activism. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
Johnson, Troy. Red Power: The Native American Civil Rights Movement. England: Chelsea House Publications, 2007.
Johnson, Troy, Josephy Jr. Alvin M and Nagel, Joane. Red Power: The American Indians Fight for Freedom. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
Katz, John. 'Damage to BIA Third Heaviest Ever in U.S.', The Washington Post, Saturday, 11 November 1962.
Lyman, Stanley David. Wounded Knee 1973: A Personal Account by Stanley David Lyman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
McKiernan, Kevin Barry. 'Notes from a Day at Wounded Knee', Minnesota Leader, 30 December 1974.
Sayer, John William. Ghost Dancing the Law: The Wounded Knee Trials. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
"The Indians of All Tribes Alcatraz Proclamation, 1969." In Competing Voices from Native America, edited by Dewi Ioan Ball and Joy Porter, 231-232. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2009.