‘Escape to Alcatraz’: How Native Americans took over former prison and ignited a movement

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — In the middle of the night on Nov. 20, 1969, a group of mostly young Native Americans escaped to Alcatraz, landing on the shores of Alcatraz Island, in the middle of San Francisco Bay. They occupied the former prison for 19 months, demanding that the federal government turn over the island to Indigenous Americans. The self-proclaimed Tribe of All Nations ignited a national movement that raised public awareness of the plight of Native American Indians.

The occupiers brought entire families to the island, hoping to create a cultural and community center to celebrate Native Americans. The occupation brought new life, tragic death, and a struggle for power. And in the end, it started a national debate on Native American rights that inspired generations and forever changed public opinion and public policy.

The ABC7 Original documentary, “Escape to Alcatraz,” tells the story of one of the leaders of the occupation, LaNada War Jack, Ph.D., and dives into our archive to tell the story of the occupation in a way never done before. We poured through hours of historic film to see how the news covered the story for more than year-and-a-half and uncovered new details, and footage, that have not been seen or heard in more than 50 years.

Download our app on Roku, AppleTV, FireTV or AndroidTV to watch the ABC7 Original documentary now on your TV.

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