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Ethnic Studies alumni help create permanent American Indian tribute on Alcatraz

Red-hued image of American Indians in native dress dancing.

Ethnic Studies alumni helped create permanent Alcatraz tribute to American Indians.

  • November 22, 2011 11:00am

Five Cal State East Bay Ethnic Studies alumni, plus faculty member Enrique Salmon, Ph.D., helped create the permanent American Indian cultural center at Alcatraz that was dedicated Nov. 20.

The exhibition comes more than 40 years after the 19-month American Indian occupation of the island intended on turning the San Francisco Bay landmark into an Indian university or cultural center.

Then-students Fabian Caballero, Abigail Andrade, Katelyn Lucus, Johanna White, and Tamitha Ferguson, supervised by Salmon, assistant professor of ethnic studies, along with students and professors from San Francisco State University documented the occupation by conducted interviews in 2009 with native scholars and activists. Caballero also contributed photos to the exhibition that he took of American Indians participating in the 2009 Thanksgiving ceremony on the island.

The resulting multi-media presentation, “We Are Still Here,” was first shown at the Richard Oakes Center at SFSU (named for the occupation’s leader), and has now found a permanent location next to the Alcatraz gift shop in the cellblock basement.

The exhibit contains photographs of the 40th anniversary occupation celebration, an audio landscape with excerpts from interviews of Alcatraz veterans and native activists; a collage of contemporary and archival footage; contemporary Native American poetry; and original art.

Oakes was 27 and a SFSU student when he led 60 American Indians, some of whom were fellow SFSU students, in reclaimed the island in the name of Indians of all tribes. The takeover led to the creation of an American Indian Studies Department SFSU. Oakes served as its temporary chair and helped to develop its initial curriculum, before his death at age 31.

The CSUEB component of the exhibit was supported by the Center for Resilient Communities, one of several small, ethnic studies projects funded by former CSUEB student Warren Allen.


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