Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

November 19, 2019

When Warriors were Warriors, Robert Free Remembers Alcatraz to Wounded Knee

The tipi that stood during the Occupation of Alcatraz returns.
Photo courtesy Robert Free Galvan Nov. 10, 2019.
Robert Free (left)  and Sid Mills at Wounded Knee 1973

When Warriors were Warriors, Robert Free Remembers Alcatraz to Wounded Knee

As the Occupation of Alcatraz's 50-year anniversary nears, Robert Free remembers the grassroots Warriors who stood courageously and willing to sacrifice their lives, from Alcatraz to the Trail of Broken Treaties and BIA takeover, to Wounded Knee. These resulted in far-reaching new laws and opportunities. Robert plans for his tipi which once stood on Alcatraz to now become a national site of historical significance.

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Nov. 15, 2019

ALCATRAZ -- Robert Free, whose tipi stood on the island during the Occupation of Alcatraz, said he's getting old and wants the youths to have the tipi and the site honored as a national monument.

Remembering his friends and fellow warriors, he names the names of those who stood and risked their lives, from the Alcatraz Occupation to the Trail of Broken Treaties and BIA Takeover in Washington D.C., to Wounded Knee.

"The over one-thousand that went to the BIA takeover in 1972 and the thousand at Wounded Knee 1973 set the bar for what movement is, not the academic discussions at conferences or peaceful civil rights protests we now see with the resulting cyber reports," Robert told Censored News.

"We accomplished it without cell phones and cyber funding, instead with 100 cars filled with six people each, across this country for a month. That's how we did it."

"We remember these veterans of frontline confrontation struggles because their names are not mentioned by so many who strive to shine off the glows of these warriors now passed.

"People always find inspiration and strength from their examples and it is why we must shine through stories and monument their memory forever."

Robert remembered Richard Oakes, Raymond Lego, Mad Bear Anderson, Al Bridges, Mickey Gemmell, Darrel Wilson, Maiselle Bridges, Valerie Bridges, Alison Bridges, Janet McCloud, Don McCloud, the Hopi clan mothers, John Chiquiti, David Sohappy, Ramona Benke, Eva Benson, Larry Casuse, Ross Montgomery, Vernon  Bellecourt, Charlie Buckskin, Mildred Montgomery, Peter Blue Cloud, Oohosis, Angel Martinez, Charlie Steelie, Charlie Cantrell, Willard Miner, Alice Papineau Dewasenta, Charles 'Chuck' Conway, Audrey Shenandoah, Pedro Bissonette, Barry Cadwell, 70 killed after Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge, Frank Clear Water, Buddy Lamont, Mary Frank, Joseph Stuntz, Sid Mills, Peter Coyote, Cuny Dog, Russell Means, Carter Camp, Bob Satiacum, Helen near Pit River at Redding, California, during the Pit River struggles, to name a few who were on the front lines of confrontations for self-determination and Indigenous rights.

During those years, many took risks to shelter them.

"Many women of the movement opened their homes as safe houses, Edith and Janet McCloud, Eldy Bratt, Mary Frank, Helen near Pit River, Mildred Rhodes, Marseille Bridges, Ramona Bennet, to name a few, whose homes allowed us to rest, replenish out bodies with great meals made with love and good thoughts. Our spirits nourished, we strategized and went out to make change! Remember them forever, the backbones of the movements."

Peter Blue Cloud, Randy Lewis and Robert Free on Alcatraz 1969.
Photo courtesy Robert Free.

The Occupations: When Warriors Were on the Frontline and Confrontational

The Occupation of Alcatraz in 1969 was preceded by two other occupations.

On March 8, 1964, Walter 'Hank' Means and his young son Russell Means were among those who occupied the Rock. During the four-hour occupation, Walter and his son, along with Richard McKenzie, Mark Martinez, Garfield Spotted Elk, Virgil Standing Elk, and Allen Cottier offered the federal government the same amount for the land that the government had initially offered them, at 47 cents an acre.

Before the third occupation in 1969, there was an occupation that lasted one night, led by mostly Indigenous students from local schools. The majority of student occupiers left and went back to school near the end of December. By then hundreds from around the country had joined the occupation and continued to come to the island until the forced removal 19 months later, Robert said.

"In 1969 Mad Bear Anderson showed us pictures of Amazonian Indigenous women hung upside down legs apart, getting sliced in half with machetes by invading non-Indigenous Brazilian farmers."

Robert remembered the Trail of Broken Treaties, leading up to the takeover of the BIA building in Washington in 1972. The caravan of cars, buses and trucks carrying more than 600 people traveled to Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Trail of Broken Treaties wrote their Twenty Points demands for the discussion on self-determination, demanding an end to the collapsed housing, lack of water and lack of heating that were making children sick in Indian country. They pointed out that more is spent on Indian conferences and meetings than housing.

The Trail of Broken Treaties came about, after Mohawk Richard Oakes, among those who occupied Alcatraz, was murdered in September of 1972.

Robert said, "When Richard Oakes was murdered by the YMCA caretaker near the Kashia reservation in northern California, Suzette Bridges here in Franks Landing, the daughter of Al Bridges, fishing rights veteran, wanted to caravan across the county to DC to petition for a federal law on killing an Indian."

"There was no justice at the county level."

"At the same time, an urban organization called the American Indian Movement was emerging on the media scenes. The group called us to ask if they could join us and together we could go to DC. Promising to land with a lot of funds, arrived with $75.00. I called a friend in San Francisco who sent me $2,000 and we headed out of Seattle on to D.C."

Besides the new federal laws and economic benefits that resulted from those who did not back down, there was another intrinsic benefit from the movement.

"These veterans of that time are our role models to look and learn from, to take heart and strength from as guides when we are lost or low of spirit."

"Because of these brave hearts that blazed the trails, the struggles were reopened once again, following our other role models of a time before, those who faced the frontlines, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, and others."

"Each generation must put forth on the frontlines a willingness to sacrifice their time, energies, resources and sometimes their lives."

For Robert, like so many others, their lives were torn.

"Taking on the frontlines of struggles is not an easy path. It will leave you isolated sometimes, actually often. Your relationship and your family will be strained, as many of us in the movement know firsthand."

There were too many that stood on the frontlines to remember all of them here.

"I've named just a few that I was honored to have met, many names I have yet to add, and those not mentioned I leave to you to remember."

Youth asked to maintain tipi and site as a national historic site

"I'm getting on in years and health and find it time to not carry so much of the burden, and challenge the youth to come forward and stand up so I may sit down and rest."

Speaking on Alcatraz on November 10, Robert said, "And here this tipi put up so long ago, a symbol that was part of the beacon that drew so many from all directions to gather and to learn from one another, this tipi I pass on to the next generation to work towards a national site of historic significance designation so the sacrifices of the many I've named do not go forgotten, so that their sacrifices become an inspiration in time of need, so that we remember and commemorate the ideas and goals to achieve a better future of our family our indigenous breather and in the end, all humanity to secure a healthy mother earth for all be nourished for all time."

When the youths put the tipi up on Alcatraz last Sunday, it was blessed by Richard Moves Camp, who was in Wounded Knee with Robert in 1973. Robert asked Peter Bratt, who had helped him put up the tipi as a young boy when he was eight years old on Alcatraz in 1969, to help put the tipi up again this year. Peter brought youth and elders to help this time. Robert told him he had earned his feather in 1969 and stayed with him and influenced him all of his life. 

"We presented feathers to the youths who put the tipi up and are going to care for it, making it a national historic site designation." 

When they gathered on Sunday, the sunshine was a blessing.

"It was supposed to be a foggy day that day, but the sun came out and it was an extremely beautiful day. It was important for us to have a shared meal with our fallen frontline warriors in the struggle and a spiritual plate was offered."

The youths were given 'In the Spirit of Crazy Horse', an original copy of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee of 1984. Peter Coyote helped with the relations with the National Park Service.

"The tipi had been on Peter Coyote's land, that's where I got it."

Robert pointed out that for the next 5 years, almost every other day will make the 50th anniversary of an important event of confrontation action for Indigenous sovereignty.

The anniversaries begin with the Occupation of Alcatraz.

"Following on modeling rekindled with the occupation of the island in 1969 until the shootout at Jumping Bulls Ranch on the Pine Ridge Lakota lands in 1975 -- the USA government repressed by assassinations and incarcerations most of the frontline movements."

Movements changed with non-profits.

After 1975, the movements changed when non-profits, and the non-Indian funding sources they appeased, became involved.

"Afterward, the people went underground and were replaced by non-profit and non-confrontational protests. This was, and is, a great compromise to have the sacrifice of the movements reduced to spokespersons pushing non-confrontation to appease their non-native funding sources and white privilege comfort levels."

"These self-declared representatives of the movement of great sacrifices know not these warriors I have mentioned and their contributions."

It seems now that many who have the luxury of progress, have forgotten to remember those warriors who made it possible.

"I have witnessed the great growth of some tribes economically who are beneficiaries of the warriors, who never mention their names and contributions for their newly developed self-determination, the rebirth of language and cultures."

"It has been hurtful to see tribes in the northwest, east and west coast and other places celebrate their new statuses without mentioning or thanking their warriors of this island, or thank allies for helping in their time of need, when their own peoples would not or could not muster the strength of spirit and courage to confront the wrongs in front of them."

These warrior veterans are not those of the United States forces.
"We must remember our warrior veterans also have suffered trauma, like facing the 900,000 bullets shot in Wounded Knee for months, seeing the killings of Buddy Lamont, Joe Stuntz and others under fire."

"These warriors are not the USA supporter soldiers fighting the USA wars, rather the grassroots people standing up and sacrificing and ready to fight the USA forces," he said.

From the fishing rights struggle in the Northwest to the standoff on the steps of the BIA building in Washington, they stood.

"These are our role models facing the 500 state troopers at the Puyallup River in 1970 and the 500 cops at the BIA building in 1972, just to name a few of the confrontations between 1970 -- 75. Our PTSD  has never been addressed and many warriors of those days are in need of healing and honoring. This would help towards a healthier spirit."

Pit River land occupation 1970. Among the names that Robert remembers, on the left Henry Knockwood, Lance Yellowhand, Robert Free in center, on the far right standing is a Blood warrior from Alberta Canada. 

The struggle in the North and South.

The struggle of Indigenous Peoples was always in the north and the south. It continues today, with the Indigenous struggles in Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Mexico.

"The Indigenous struggle continues throughout the north and south continents as well throughout the world," Robert said.

"Not much changed as we see Brazil's Amazon in flames. You see today how a military coup against an Indigenous leader in a majority Indigenous populated country is invaded and attacked by white Europeans."

"It is the same fight, we have made allies both indigenous and non-indigenous, who are realizing our common struggle for a healthy mother earth."

"The European colonizers divided our lands and people back then and still do today. We are separated by their languages and by learned racism and self-hate."

Robert said Indigenous Peoples have survived the colonizers, diseases and attempts to eliminate them. English-speaking people colonize lands as they travel among each other's lands, through Canada, USA, New Zealand and Australia, but they avoid traveling to Mexico, Peru, Chile and elsewhere. Travel to these lands would bridge separations and bridge peoples, resulting in lands reclaimed and self-determination.

"We are stronger now, we have some immunity to diseases and are repopulating our numbers of people, more so in the central and south continents."

"We are still a recovering peoples."

(Above) Robert's tipi on Alcatraz during the Occupation of Alcatraz 1969 -- 1971

 Below: 50 years later, the tipi returns to Alcatraz Nov. 2019
Photos courtesy Robert Free Galvan

Robert with his son Wekus Yellowbird

Corrina Gould's granddaughter,  Ohlone Tribe
Little Ohlone Warrior

(On far left) Alvin Willie, original artist on Alcatraz

Local youth groups helped put tipi up last Sunday

Alvin Willie and youths bringing poles up

Robert Free with son Wikus Yellowbird, daughter Meessa Cobell, and granddaughter Molyka Cobell

                           Below: The first occupation of Alcatraz 1964
                  Walter 'Hank' Means and his young song Russell Means
(Above) March 08, 1964: Walter Means, 48, and his son Russell Means (Lakota), 24.  Walter is assisted by his son as they drive this land claim stake into Alcatraz Island; The San Francisco Examiner's staff photographer Ray Morris photo. (Below) The 1964 Occupation of Alcatraz.

Article copyright Brenda Norrell and Robert Free, Censored News


Unknown said...

"Thank you, Robert Free, for finally telling what you know. You told me many things and I always respected your version and your vision. You were a welcomed guest in my, and my sister Alice's, home in Spokane after Wounded Knee 1973 along with several others including Steve and Jim Robideau, Roque Duenas and his son David, Little Joe Stuntz, his wife Ida and their children, and others I can't recall at the moment. I will never forget how calm everyone was despite the fact my home was under surveillance and my phone was tapped. We had no reason to be afraid, we were working together on a very important spiritual gathering with respect for our elder, Ella McCarty, of the Spokane Tribe. She wanted us to organize a temporary living and learning camp on her property 30 miles from town so that we could learn important teachings from spiritual leaders of the four directions. She did not want the old ways to be lost and she wanted us to learn and go to our communities and share the information. Many good memories and today, I was going through some things and found the eagle plume that Roque Duenas gave me in those days." Thanks also to you, Brenda, for sharing the information Robert gave you. The photos are so appreciated as well.

Anonymous said...

Writing my memoirs I came upon this site. Thank you so much for telling this important history. I was happy to see my friend, Onondaga Clan Mother, Alice Papineau (Dewasanta) mentioned,but the spelling was off. She was always courageous, while remaining thoughtful and graceful. I miss her much.
I will mention an ally, Alex Hladkey, who was killed in the NY area in 1984, under suspicious circumstances.
Again, thanks for your informative reminiscence.

Censored News, publisher Brenda Norrell said...

Thank you, the spelling was corrected.