Richard Oakes:Native American Activist

Richard Oakes: Native American activist, best known for leading the occupation of the obsolete Alcatraz prison

Richard Oakes was a Native American activist best known for leading the occupation of the obsolete Alcatraz prison, famous for changing the history of indigenous peoples’ rights. Oakes is a member of the Mohawk tribe and was born in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. He was a Mohawk Native American activist who had a significant influence on Native American rights and helped to be a pioneer in Native American research in college curricula across the country. He is best known for playing an integral role in the occupation of Alcatraz when Native American protesters took control of ex-prisons to protest abusive government policies.

The impact of Richard Oakes on Native American issues is still felt today.

On November 9, 2019, the 50th anniversary of Alcatraz occupation will be celebrated. Occupations are remembered every year at sunrise. And Google makes a doodle on his 50th anniversary.


Who was Richard Oakes (Activist)


He was born on May 22, 1942, in the St. Regis Mohawk Reserve on the border of Canada and New York. Richard Like many of his ancestors, Oakes spent most of his childhood fishing and farming(planting beans). Later, I started working in the local wharf area on St. Lawrence Seaway. This was typical of children who lived in protected areas at the time. Later, started working in the local wharf area on St. Lawrence Seaway.

Education and Marriage:-

At the age of 16, Oakesleft school and worked as a great steelworker. He was able to work. In 1968, he got married and had a woman and son he met while working in the steel industry. Shortly after his son was born, he headed west.

Oakes left his wife and young son, leaving the East Coast and studying at San Francisco State University. It was when he was here that he worked as a waiter in the Mission District of San Francisco and met many local Native Americans living in the area. He became well known in the city and began to realize that something was missing at college.

U.S. unfair policies:-

Prior to the occupation, the issue of indigenous people in the United States did not receive the attention of them. Many were abused at school and at that time were viewed as “less” by too many communities throughout the United States. During the 1940s and 1960s, the United States government implemented the American Indian termination policy. This policy seeks to integrate Native Americans into the dominant American society.

Think of the government as saying that you should forget all the traditions of your family, stop living as you know it and start living like all “other Americans.” As you can imagine, this policy is disadvantageous for Native Americans, but due to their strong desire to preserve their culture and history, they have begun to protest against politics. The termination policy was modified in the mid-1960s, and influential activists who did not give up can appreciate the change in the system.

Native American studies and occupation of Alcatraz

While at SFSU, he noticed that Native American research was very scarce. Richard Oakes partnered with a university professor to help develop the first curriculum for Native American studies. He became very friendly with the local Native American community and encouraged others to enter college. He brought some of the elders from the community to teach. Other universities have done the same, and thanks to Richard, more Native American learning programs have begun to emerge.

The occupation of Alcatraz was a 19-month protest. Indian and American supporters occupied the famous island for over a year.

On November 9, 1969,  Richard Oakes(Activist) (Mohawk), Jim Vaughn (Cherokee), Joeville (Eskimo), and Rothharden (Ho-chunk) were as close to the island as possible. Richard led this fellow Native American group along with other activists to the infamous Alcatraz Prison on the island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Along the way, the Coast Guard stopped the boat, but could not stop Richard Oakes(Activist) from arriving on the island, according to legend, jumped off the boat and swam toward the island.

In 1969, prisons were not used, the last prisoner was escorted from the island in 1963, and the island was declared by the United States. As a surplus federal property. Richard and other activists have created a safe haven for American Indians. They wanted a place where all Native Americans felt safe, and it was there that the group began the protest. His ultimate goal was to turn the island into a cultural center and Native American school. This group has named all tribes Indians (IOAT). The group of protesters consisted of students, couples, and some children who were on board. All tribal Indians claimed the island by the right of discovery, citing the Fort Laramie Treaty between the United States and Sue (1868).

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They also accused the US government of breaking many Indian treaties. The group has issued the “Alcatraz Declaration” to announce their actions to the people of the world. “It was sent to the Great White Father and all of his people.” Many of the protesters fought for the “Red Power” movement, he had for Native American civil rights since the 1960s.

The famous Alcatraz water tower was soon drawn with the word “peace and freedom.” There are slogans such as the home of Free Indian territory, and “Red Power”, found in several buildings on the island. At the peak of the occupation, more than 400 people lived on Alcatraz Island. Natives brought food, clothing and other essentials to the people of the island. Of course, the blockade made it increasingly difficult because the Coast Guard was trying to discourage people from bringing in supplies.

As the occupation continued, the turmoil over their efforts began to wave across the country. One of the island’s inhabitants began radio transmissions daily, and residents began to create island breaking news.

Leading Hollywood actors such as Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, and Anthony Quinn have shown support not only by visiting the island but also by bringing necessary supplies to protesters. The famous rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival donated an amazing donation of $ 15,000. Finally, it was used to buy a boat called “clear water”.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a peaceful protest during the occupation. Richard and other activists are far from violent. They simply wanted the right to be US citizens. They fought peacefully for the American Indians to dominate their land. The belief that Indians should control their area and behavior was not seen as a fundamental human right for them. Protesters fought day and night, changing the unfair policies of the United States government.

After leaving Alcatraz

After leaving Alcatraz, Oakes continued to resist. Richard Oakes(Activist)  helped the Pit River tribe try to recover almost 3 million acres of land seized by Pacific Gas & Electric. Oakes also planned to establish a “mobile university” dedicated to giving opportunities to Native Americans, but this did not happen. As a result of his activism, he endured tear gas, Billy Club and short missions in prison.

Death: Killed in Young age:-

Richard Oakes(Activist), no doubt, had decades of activism and education ahead of him, but he never had the opportunity to experience them. Shortly after Alcatraz, Oakes was shot dead by Michael Morgan, YMCA camp manager, in Sonoma, California. Morgan was a white supremacist and was reputed to be tough on Native American children. It is reported that Oakes had confronted him violently, and Morgan claimed that he was afraid of his life and drew a gun to shoot him fatally. Oakes was unarmed when he was shot. Morgan was charged with lethal voluntary negligence but was acquitted by Jury, who agreed with Morgan that the murder was in self-defense. Oakes supporters claim that shooting was a homicide, and Morgan was assisted by jurors and racially motivated district attorneys. Oakes was 30 years old.

Despite the tragic end of his life, Richard Oakes accomplished much on behalf of the Native Americans. While he failed to seize Alcatraz, the occupation attracted new attention to the cause: hundreds of other protests were organized and then-President Richard Nixon returned 48,000 acres of land to the Taos Indians. Today, the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center at San Francisco State University is dedicated to Oakes, who dedicated his life to promoting the idea that Native Americans have control of their own destiny.

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