LaNada Means, now Dr. LaNada War Jack, was one of the leaders of the Occupation of Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971. She was a part of the initial landing party and occupied the island for the full 19 months. Some fellow occupiers have described her as “the real leader of the occupation.” At the time of the occupation, Means attended the University of California at Berkeley as the school’s first Native American student. She stayed in school during the duration of the Alcatraz occupation by hitchhiking with her toddler son to the university every Sunday to complete coursework. Means helped develop the first Ethnic Studies Program in the UC statewide effort in establishing Native American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies and Asian Studies and later graduated with honors in an Independent Major of Native American Law & Politics. After the occupation ended, Means remained active in Native politics. In 1985, she co-organized Tribal Survival Ecosystems and received her Certificate in Permaculture Design from the International Permaculture Institute, Tasmania, Australia. She later completed a Masters in Public Administration and a Doctorate of Arts Degree in Political Science at Idaho State University. For nearly a decade, she was on the founding board and executive board of the Native American Rights Fund. From 2005 to 2008, Means was the Executive Director for the Shoshone Bannock Tribes and is currently the President and CEO of Indigenous Visions Network. She has taught classes in Native American History at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska and is currently a Distinguished Professor at Boise State University teaching federal Indian Law/Tribal Government. Means has been outspoken about indigenous women’s rights and the "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women" crisis. On November 11, 2019, she released her book entitled Colonization Battlefield: A Native American Historical and Personal Perspective on Oppression, Survival and Resistance.
John Trudell is most effectively viewed from the standpoint of living two dynamic lives split down the middle by unfathomable trauma. In his first, motivated by the historical inflicting of inequity and cultural rapture at the hands of the United States government, Trudell was the charismatic voice of the American Indian Movement. Trudell participated in the Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 and of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1972, after which he would go on to serve as the AIM National Chairman until 1979. While these events served as the largest scale of his endeavors with AIM, there is no mistaking that Trudell’s voice and presence were consistently heard throughout the rise of the American Indian Movement.
In the year of 1979, just twelve hours after personally burning an American flag in Washington D.C. as a form of protest, Trudell’s wife and three children tragically died in a suspicious house fire, marking the beginning of his second life. Trudell abandoned explicit activism and identity speech, opting instead for the expressive outlets of spoken-word poetry, music and art. Trudell aimed only to share himself, with the audiences having full responsibility of taking his work in whatever manner was honest for themselves. He would continue this introspective path of creation and performance until his death in 2015, earning praise and uniquely weaving lessons of hope and loss along the way.
Richard Oakes grew up on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in New York, known in Mohawk as Akwesasne, along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. As a teenager and young adult he worked as a steelworker until he became involved in activism in his later 20s.
In 1968 Oakes moved out west and was instrumental in the development of the Native American Studies program at San Francisco State University where he studied. He was a key leader in the occupation of Alcatraz Island with Indians of All Tribes from 1969 until the accidental death of his daughter on the island in 1970. After this tragedy, Oakes and his wife left the occupation and returned to their home in California. Oakes continued his activism for indigenous rights, championing education and land and treaty rights. Richard Oakes was shot and killed in an altercation with a white supremacist at 30 years old in 1972.
With a surname like hers, which derives from the title of a person watching over a Cherokee village, Wilma Mankiller seemed to be destined for the greatness she achieved, becoming the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma in 1983.
The Mankiller family moved from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to San Francisco, California when Wilma was just 10 years old, as part of the Relocation program sponsored by the federal government. Wilma participated in the occupation at Alcatraz Island. In her autobiography, Mankiller: A Chief of Her People (1993) she stated that she was strongly influenced by the Native protesters at Alcatraz, particularly Richard Oakes, who was a treaty rights defender, saying that “… she gained self-respect and a sense of pride during the Alcatraz occupation: ‘It changed me forever.’”
In San Francisco, Mankiller worked at the Native American Youth Center and the Urban Indian Resource Center, gaining knowledge about working with community members. Mankiller returned to Oklahoma in 1977 and worked as an economic stimulus coordinator and later as the head of the Community Development Department for the Cherokee Nation.
Mankiller served as the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1983 until 1995. In one of her most notable accomplishments, Wilma signed an agreement in 1990 with the federal government allowing the Cherokee Nation to take control of its funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Even after her death in 2010, Wilma continues to be known as a leader who brought unprecedented growth and prosperity to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, championing initiatives in support of employment, healthcare and education for the Cherokee people. As a leader Mankiller emphasized the importance of self-determination, tribal sovereignty and women’s equality in Indian country and beyond.