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The phrase "Red Power", attributed to Vine Deloria Jr., commonly expressed a growing sense of pan-Indian identity in the late 1960s.

The major catalyst of Red Power was the occupation of the deserted federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on November 20, 1969. A group of 89 Indians, mostly college students who identified themselves as "Indians of All Tribes", claimed the island according to the terms of an 1868 Sioux treaty that gave Indians rights to unused federal property on Indian land. The group demanded federal funds for a multifaceted cultural and educational center. They were visited by and inspired the members of the American Indian Movement (AIM), who, on Thanksgiving 1970, led a protest on the East Coast by painting Plymouth Rock red. For the next year and a half at Alcatraz, an occupation force averaging around 100, and a stream of visitors from numerous tribes, celebrated the occupation of the island. Although the protesters ultimately failed to achieve their specific goals, they had an enormous impact on the Indian community. With the occupation of Alcatraz, a participant testified, "we got back our worth, our pride, our dignity, our humanity."[1]

At the forefront of this movement was AIM, or the American Indian Movement, which was founded in 1968. Founded in Minneapolis, its members belonged to and represented mainly urban Indian communities, and its leaders were young and militant. Like the Black Panthers and Brown Berets, AIM was initially organized to work for Indian civil rights in cities. They monitored law enforcement practices, and worked to highlight and prevent police harassment and brutality. AIM soon played a major role in building a network of urban Indian centers, churches and philanthropic organizations, and in establishing the "powwow circuit" that publicized news of protest activities across the country. Skillful in attracting attention from the news media, AIM quickly inspired a plethora of new publications and local chapters.

At the same time, many young Indians began to turn to their elders to learn tribal ways, including traditional dress and spiritual practices. The activism led to decades of changes among American Indian communities, and increasing self-government at the tribal level.

The 1960s also marked the beginning of an "Indian Renaissance" in literature. New books such as Vine Deloria Jr.'s Custer Died for Your Sins (1969) and the classic Black Elk Speaks (1961), reprinted from the 1930s, reached millions of readers inside and outside Indian communities. A wide variety of Indian writers, historians, and essayists followed up these successes. N. Scott Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for one of his novels and Leslie Silko received acclaim. Fiction and nonfiction works about Indian life and lore have continued to attract a large audience. Novels by Sherman Alexie have been adapted for film as well.

From 1969 to the Longest Walk of 1978, the Red Power Movement highlighted issues by social protest. Its goal was for the government to honor treaty obligations and provide financial "resources, education, housing and healthcare to alleviate poverty."[2] The ARPM was instrumental in supporting the founding of Indian colleges, as well as the creation of Indian studies programs at existing institutions, and the establishment of museums and cultural centers to celebrate Indian contributions.

The Red Power movement had accomplished many of its goals as direct social activism declined in the late 1970s. "By the early 1980s, over 100 Indian studies programs had been created in the United States. Tribal museums opened."[2] Among the most prominent of the cultural centers is the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which was authorized by the US Congress in 1989 and opened on the Mall in Washington, DC in 2004.

Indigenous rights has also become an international issue, with activist groups arising in many nations. The United Nations has officially recognized an international indigenous rights movement.

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b "Alcatraz Is Not an Island", Indian Activism,, accessed 10 Nov 2009

Further reading

  • Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior. (1996) Like a hurricane: The Indian movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee. New York: The New Press.

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