On the evenings of Wednesday, November 25 and Thursday, November 26, a series of film and still images will be projected onto Coit Tower to mark the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Alacatraz Island by a coalition of Native American activists. The project, called “Indigenous Renewal: Alcatraz Occupation Remembrance + Ohlone Presence Celebrated,” represents a collaboration of San Francisco-based artists Ben Wood and David Mark. Neil Maclean, as part of the Ohlone Profiles Project, also invited a number of other contributions from local native supporters and some Ohlone. In conjunction with the projection on Coit Tower, a running commentary about the images will be broadcast on KPOO San Francisco 89.5 FM.
On November 20, 1969, a coalition of Native Americans – many of them college students – took over Alacatraz Island in San Francisco Bay in an unarmed occupation that would last until June 10, 1971. At its height on Thanksgiving, 1969, as many as approximately 400 Native activists occupied the island. Alcatraz had been abandoned as a federal prison facility since 1963, and although the U.S. Coast Guard established a blockade of the island at the beginning of the occupation and the FBI were poised to land, the federal government withheld action until the numbers of activists dwindled to about 15 in 1971. The inital occupying party, calling itself Indians of All Tribes, demanded that Alcatraz be developed as a Native cultural center, including programs such as a museum and a center for Native studies. More broadly, the activists drew attention to a wide range of Native issues related to sovereignty, repatriation and civil rights.
Ben Wood described to me the variety of sources from which he selected footage and images that will be projected on Coit Tower. These include images of the occupation that archivist Alex Cherian of the San Francisco State University Special Collections & Archives helped Wood to find. Eric Blind, Presidio Trust Archaeologist, provided imagery related to his work in repatriating Native artifacts. Andrew Galvan, the curator at the Mission Dolores and himself an Ohlone, made it possible for Wood to shoot footage of the 1790s Ohlone mural hidden behind the reredos in the Mission. In addition to these cultural heritage professionals, Neil Maclean built relationships with a wide net of Ohlone and other Native people and their allies throughout the Bay Area, who provided additional imagery and participated in the project. The resulting collection of images had also been used on by these artists on previous projects involving projections on Coit Tower in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Among the content that will be projected this year will be:
- Alcatraz Is Not an Island, by James Fortier
- Rendezvouz with Alcatraz, by Ben Wood & David Mark
- Welcome to Ohlone Territory, by Marlo Mckenzie and Neil Maclean
- Ohlone Families, by Charlene Sul and Anthony Sul
- San Bruno Mountain, by Keith Moreau and Sam Ellis Moreau
- Native America Segments, by Lorenzo
“Indigenous Renweal” will take place on Wednesday, November 25 and again on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 26, from dusk until the following morning. Wood and Mark have recommended Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 31, and Washington Square as locations from which the images can be seen. Running commentary about the images from Ohlone and other Native participants in the project will be able to be heard on KPOO San Francisco 89.5 FM. For more information about the project and the artists, please go to Coit Live or Ohlone Profiles.