RICHARD OAKES
Mohawk Nation

2019 – Advocacy

Just 30 years old when he died in 1972, Mohawk activist Richard Oakes holds a very special place in contemporary Native history. Born and raised in Akwesasne on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation and working as a high steel worker by the age of 16, he left the east coast for the west coast in the late 1960s. He enrolled at San Francisco State University. Disappointed with the lack of courses in Native studies at the University, he subsequently worked with a professor to create the first curriculum for Native studies in the country.

Richard is most well known as a leader of the 19-month peaceful occupation of Alcatraz Island, located in San Francisco Bay. The 1969-1971 Alcatraz Occupation, which protested abusive government policies against tribes, such as termination, and breaking treaties, is credited for unifying Native Americans in the struggle for their human rights. Today, the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center serves as a place at San Francisco University where Richard is remembered. November 29, 2019, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Peaceful Occupation of Alcatraz by Indians of All Tribes.