This piece was originally published in our January-March 2023 edition of SF Heritage News. To view the full issue, click here.
By Dr. LaNada War Jack
Dr. LaNada War Jack (Shoshone-Bannock) is a long-time community activist and leader in the pursuit of equal rights for Native Americans. In 1968, she became the first Native American student enrolled at UC Berkeley and later graduated with honors. She was arrested at the Third World Strike at UC Berkeley in 1969 but succeeded in obtaining approval for the first ethnic studies program to be included in the UC system statewide. In November of that year, she helped lead the Occupation of Alcatraz, a protest seeking reclamation of the federally controlled island. For 19 months, 89 Native Americans and their supporters lived on the land. The Washington Post noted that the protest “fueled a new political awakening popularly known as ‘Red Power.'” She now lives on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho on the Snake River Plain. SF Heritage was honored to host Dr. War Jack as our first Activist-in-Residence at our historic landmark Doolan-Larson Residence on the corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets in November and December 2022.
Your work helping to establish the first Ethnic Studies Department in the University of California system while attending UC Berkeley is groundbreaking and predates your time on Alcatraz. What is the most important thing you’d like people to know about this work?
It’s important to continue Ethnic Studies as a part of the university system because knowing about us as people helps prevent racism and discrimination. Other students can see that we are a people with an Indigenous culture that ties us to the land. Western ideology does not have the same understanding. It allows pollution of our water, air and land. It allows mining corporations to dig into the earth and cause more pollution and misuse of the resources. This work doesn’t stop because the forces that be continue to make us [as a people] obsolete.
How do you continue to remain involved in American Indian activism and cultural preservation work?
This is just a continuation of fighting for justice from the reservation to the city and city to reservation. Indian people were always fighting for justice from many other places but never covered in the media. Cultural preservation is a way of life and as a Native person, I have learned to continuously practice my culture as our way of life.
Tell us about your time living and working in the Doolan-Larson Residence as SF Heritage’s first Activist-in-Residence. What did you focus on during your time there?
Mostly for the month of November I gave presentations (during American Indian Heritage Month), sold books, attended meetings, and gave Alcatraz tours about the 1969 Occupation. I’ve been able to work with the National Park Service on Alcatraz as well. December has been a time to write and meet with outside parties, networking, fundraising and now working on a movie. Working here has allowed me more contact to meet with people and now I have more writing to do. We initiated the educational/cultural center and museum on Alcatraz 53 years ago and we asked the Department of the Interior to help us establish our plans. This is the only time we can ask as Native people have never had Presidential administrative support. I have met twice with movie producers on creating a film about Alcatraz. We are planning future Zoom meetings when I leave but it allowed me to meet and talk to people face to face. What is unique about the Doolan-Larson Residence is the space and character of the building. The location provides a nearby food market, post office, shopping, and different kinds of restaurants with great food.
What advice would you give future SF Heritage artists-in-residence in the Haight?
This is a wonderful opportunity to live and work but you must learn to pray for this house as many spirits pass through.
About the book – Native Resistance: An Intergenerational Fight for Survival and Life, by Dr. LaNada War Jack. Published in 2019, this comprehensive book follows the story of Dr. War Jack’s ancestors within the context of colonialization, Manifest Destiny, and cultural oppression. Born after the conclusion of World War II, LaNada followed in the footsteps of her parents, who questioned the legitimacy of the system they were born into during a period when Native Americans “were not allowed to eat in restaurants or go into bars or public places.” Nonetheless, she kept her promise to her father, telling him “I would never be ashamed to be an Indian.” Dr. War Jack details the Occupation of Alcatraz, a protest held on the federally owned prison property where her great-grandfather Tahmonmah was held in 1881 following the Bannock War and Sheepeater Campaign. She adds new insights and perspective to the Bureau of Indian Affairs Takeover in 1972 and the Wounded Knee [South Dakota] Occupation of 1973, as well as the more contemporary Pyramid Lake Water Wars and the Standing Rock Protest. To learn more about Dr. LaNada War Jack, or to purchase her book, visit her website at drwarjack.com.
Images below: Left: Dr. War Jack on the cover of the February 1970 issue of the San Francisco-based “Ramparts” magazine, which covered the Occupation of Alcatraz. Right: Dr. War Jack recounts stories of the Occupation of Alcatraz to SF Heritage board members, staff, and guests on a special guided trip to Alcatraz on November 14, 2022.