Alcatraz Is Not an Island

James Fortier. | 60 minutes. Turtle Island Productions.

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On November 20, 1969, sometime after 2 a.m., a fleet of wooden sailboats holding 90 Native Americans landed on Alcatraz. For the next 19 months, the group forcibly occupied the island, hoping to reclaim the rock “in the name of all American Indians.” Although federal marshals eventually removed the protesters, and their demands — including title to the island and the construction of a Native American university — were never granted, scholars view the two-year protest as a springboard for modern-day Indian activism.

James Fortier captures this overlooked chapter of the civil rights movement in his documentary Alcatraz Is Not an Island, which airs on PBS in November. With its straight-ahead, chronological narrative, the film often has a dry, educational feel. Nevertheless, by weaving together interviews with student occupiers and never-before-seen archival footage, Alcatraz creates a powerful snapshot of this revolutionary incident and gives life to the words of charismatic protest leader Richard Oakes: “Alcatraz is not an island. It’s an idea. It’s the idea that you can recapture and be in control of your life and your destiny.”

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And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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