Never-before-seen Images and Untold Stories of the Alcatraz Occupation

For Immediate Release: November 12, 2019

Kate Patterson, San Francisco Public Library
(415) 557-4252 /

Never-before-seen Images and Untold Stories of the Alcatraz Occupation

Original occupiers, co-conspirators, eye witnesses and artists capture the Occupation of Alcatraz through storytelling, public programs and exhibitions at San Francisco Public Library


San Francisco – In the late 60s, LaNada Means, now Dr. LaNada War Jack (Shoshone Bannock), made history when she became the first Native American to attend UC Berkeley where she started the first Native American Student Organization and joined in the Third World Strikes to advocate for the very first Ethnic Studies Department in the nation. Protesting alongside her was German-born Ilka Hartmann, a grad student at Cal and a photographer for the student newspaper, The Daily Cal. In November 1969, Hartmann saw a headline on the front page of the newspaper, “14 Indians took a boat to Alcatraz Island during the middle of the night”. On that boat was 23-year-old War Jack who was on a mission to reclaim Native land and to create Thunderbird University that would include a cultural center, museum and ecology center. This instead turned the political agenda for Native people from the termination era and inspired self-determination for Indigenous Peoples. From the moment she read the headline, Hartmann faithfully followed the occupation and on March 30, 1970, she was able to get to the island. How she got there is another story.

These are just two of the interwoven lives and first-hand accounts that are being shared in a series of public programs and exhibitions presented by San Francisco Public Library in conjunction with the 2019 One City One Book selection, There There by Tommy Orange and in honor of National American Indian Heritage Month, the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz and the citywide 2019 American Indian Initiative.

“It’s important for institutions like the Public Library to provide platforms for Indigenous voices so that we can share our history—our real history, the history of genocide and forcibly removing children from their families into government and Christian boarding schools and forced assimilation,” says Dr. War Jack. “Sharing our truth enables us to breakdown the racial stereotypes that keep us all from realizing racial equity. The Occupation of Alcatraz was a catalyzing moment for Indigenous people and for reconnecting to a greater awareness of Indigenous culture. It’s wonderful to see public institutions convene the community around this significant anniversary and for the public to access a true and authentic history of our people.”

Some 50 programs for all ages in all library locations provide a platform for the community to learn about and enjoy Indigenous culture, history, music, crafts, dance and ways of life. Upcoming program highlights include the following:

Untold and Intimate Stories of the Alcatraz Occupation


San Francisco Main Library, Latino/Hispanic Community Rooms
100 Larkin Street, San Francisco

The Library partners with the California Historical Society for a powerful evening of stories from the Occupation of Alcatraz. Photographer Ilka Hartmann will open the program with a slide show of images she took of the occupation in 1970.  A group of original occupiers, including Dr. LaNada War Jack (Shoshone Bannock), Eloy Martinez (Southern Ute), Geneva Seaboy (Dakota/Chippewa) and Blair Ryan (Seminole/Chickasaw) and William Ryan (Seminole/Chickasaw) will tell the rich, untold stories of organizing and living on the Island. They will be joined by Kent Blansett (Cherokee/Creek/Choctaw/Shawnee/Potawatomi), professor and author of A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and Red Power and Mary Crowley, one of the three skippers, known as the Sausalito Indian Navy, who ferried the protestors to the Island. Additionally, the program will include never-before-seen photographs taken during the first nine days of the occupation by fellow navy man Brooks Townes.

Author Talk: Dr. LaNada War Jack


San Francisco Main Library, Skylight Gallery, South Salon, 6th Floor
100 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Dr. LaNada War Jack (Shoshone Bannock Tribes) discusses her new book Native Resistance: an Intergenerational Fight for Survival and Life, which chronicles the events tied to the genocide of Native people in the United States—from forced removals to federal reservations and her life during the late sixties at UC Berkeley, the Occupation of Alcatraz Island, Pyramid Lake Water War in Nevada, to the Standing Rock Resistance in North Dakota

Author Talk: Kent Blansett


San Francisco Main Library, Skylight Gallery Lobby, South Salon, 6th Floor
100 Larkin Street, San Francisco

Professor and author Kent Blansett (Cherokee/Creek/Choctaw/Shawnee/Potawatomi) discusses his book A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and Red Power. Book signing to follow.

In addition, patrons can learn about the Occupation through photographic and art exhibitions at the Main Library. Occupy Alcatraz! draws on materials from the Alcatraz Indian Occupation collection donated to the Library by Indians of All Tribes. Before the Occupation: A Brief History of Native Americans at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary gives the backstory on events in federal history that led to the Occupation.  The Native Reclamation of Alcatraz Island, 1969: News Coverage from 50 Years Ago on the Alcatraz Takeover features coverage of this landmark moment from daily newspapers and from the underground press. All that Glitters Is Not Gold: Original Ink Drawings Inspired by the Photo Archives features a new body of work by local artist Kaytea Petro. Lastly, Red Power on Alcatraz: Perspectives 50 Years Later tells the story of the 19-month occupation, a watershed moment in the movement for Native American civil rights.

Throughout the branch libraries, there are compelling programs led by Indigenous artists and instructors that include identifying edible, wild and native foods in the Bay Area with a local chef as well as book clubs centered around the Library’s 2019 One City One Book selection, There There by Tommy Orange. San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck (Tsalagi Cherokee/Euro-American) and special guests will also host Thursday evening PoemJams. Younger audiences can celebrate Indigenous culture, diversity and history through Mayan Yucatec bingo games, Ohlone games and mini-zines, making beaded bracelets and special story hours.

All ages can study Cherokee and Hawaiian online through Mango Languages, free with a library card.

We hope that you learn something new, have your curiosity stoked and enjoy our varied programs that honor and celebrate Indigenous peoples.

Visit for a full program of events related to the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz and National American Indian Heritage Month.

About San Francisco Public Library:

San Francisco Public Library is dedicated to free and equal access to information, knowledge, independent learning and the joys of reading for our diverse community. The library system is made up of 27 neighborhood branches, the San Francisco Main Library at Civic Center and four bookmobiles. To learn more, please visit and follow on Twitter @SFPublicLibrary and on Instagram @sfpubliclibrary.

November 12, 2019