History in the Making

Document Type



Jutting out into the middle of San Francisco Bay is a large rocky formation known as Alcatraz Island, its name loosely translated from the Spanish word for “pelican.” Tourists leave from Pier thirty-three and travel to the island which has been designated as a National Park. It offers visitors the opportunity to experience history as the location was once a fortress and a prison. Many visitors, however, are unaware of the connection of Indigenous populations to the island thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. With the advent of settler colonialism, the impact of European colonial settlers on Indigenous populations had negative consequences, compounding a system of genocide and repression. Alcatraz eventually became an asset for the United States government, incarcerating those who did not conform, including members of Indigenous populations. In 1969, a group calling itself Indians of All Tribes (IOAT) occupied the island, taking over what was now considered surplus federal property. Their effort at decolonization – the process of dismantling colonial occupation by returning land and recognizing Indigenous sovereignty – was based on broken and unratified treaties between Indigenous tribes and the United States. Currently, the National Park Service’s conservation efforts help to vocalize the relevance of California’s original occupants and add an important narrative to the state’s history.