40th Anniversary Of The Siege Of Fort Lawton

An article in the Seattle Times commemorates the events of March 8, 1970, when more than 100 Native Americans and their supporters launched a forceful protest at Fort Lawton, a former Army base located in West Seattle. Railing against the government’s policies and treatment of Native people, the protestors occupied a portion of the base and declared it Tribal land "by right of discovery". The action garnered national attention; Jane Fonda joined the protesters and was herself arrested.

The protest, which lasted nearly a month, mirrored the occupation of the abandoned penitentiary at Alcatraz in 1969. That action was ultimately joined by thousands of Native American activists and sympathizers, including some of the leaders of the action at Fort Lawton: Colville tribal members Randy Lewis and the late Bernie Whitebear.

The Fort Lawton protesters drove to the base with red banners streaming from their vehicles. "Then all hell broke loose," Lewis said. "MPs [military police] descended on us, Jeeps were turned over, they started whaling on us, and people were thrown in jail." In news accounts of the time, protesters said they needed medical treatment for their injuries, while the military denied using excessive force. Lewis and other activists set up an encampment outside the gate. "We laid siege. We would not give up, and the military would not surrender. Sometimes there were 20 of us, sometimes there were 300." He remembered one night he was encamped alone when a car full of opponents drove by, throwing bottles. He retaliated with a shovel full of hot coals from his campfire, setting the interior of their car aflame. "That's the way it was back then," Lewis said.

The protest ultimately led to the creation of the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center , which opened in 1977. Today the center provides a range of services for people of any ethnicity, including Head Start and day care. Marty Bluewater, executive director of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation,  sees a special mission to serve the more than 85,000 Native Americans living in the King County metro area — about 20 percent of them below the poverty line. Asked how the struggle 40 years ago ended, Lewis answered, "It hasn't. It still goes on every day."

40th Anniversary of Native American Occupation of Alcatraz


November marks 40 years since Native American activists seized the former federal island penitentiary of Alcatraz and used it to raise the national consciousness on issues facing Native communities.

In November of 1969, Richard Oakes led a landing party named “Indians of All Tribes” onto boats and took up residence on Alcatraz. The prison had been closed six years earlier and was considered surplus property by the federal government. Citing treaty language from the 19th Century that indicated the US government’s intent to set aside such properties for Native peoples, the group occupied the island “to focus attention on broken treaties, broken promises and termination of tribal areas," says Professor Troy Johnson, chairman of the American Indian studies program at California State University. The U.S. 16 years earlier had begun a policy of terminating Indian reservations and relocating the inhabitants to urban areas.

Adam Fortunate Eagle released a public declaration of the group's intentions. To the amusement of local Bay Area residents and the chagrin of federal authorities, he recounted European exploitation over the centuries, and stated that the Native group claimed Alcatraz by “right of discovery” and that they would pay for the island with $24 worth of goods – equal to the amount paid by the Dutch to acquire Manhattan Island from Native peoples in 1626.

At the height of the occupation, 400 Native Americans were in residence on Alcatraz, receiving regular news coverage and logistical assistance from many quarters. In 1971, authorities peacefully ended the occupation after 19 months by going in when the group was at its smallest. President Nixon ended the U.S. tribal termination policy in June 1970, while they still were on the island. Fortunate Eagle says the occupation was the most significant event in Native American history since the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn: "It brought the Indian issues to the forefront of the public awareness."