'Life was tough on that island'

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall was one of the principle organizers of the historic Occupation of Alcatraz that took place from 1969 to 1971.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)

Jarrette Werk

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall recalls that first day when occupants had 'no boats' to take over Alcatraz

Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, reflects on the first day of the takeover of Alcatraz Island that started on November 9, 1969, and his experiences with the historic fight for Native American rights. 

Besides writing the five-point proposal that eventually turned into a proclamation of Native people using the land, the activist was "on the mainland acting as a quartermaster, raising money to buy food and other supplies for the Island and dealing with the media."

He didn't live on Alcatraz but organized much of the daily routine that made it possible for others to live on the island for 19 months.

Fifty years later, the 90-year-old artist resides on his family compound located on the Paiute Shoshone Indian Reservation, minutes from of Fallon, Nevada.

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Photographs and artwork line the walls of his family home that sits next to a workshop, art gallery and roundhouse made entirely of recycled tires.

His two-room workshop houses a wall of priceless artifacts, including boxes from his time on Alcatraz. He wouldn't let me take a peek but said mail clippings, photos and more filled the boxes labeled "Alcatraz." 

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Boxes labeled "Alcatraz" held mail clippings, photos and more.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, in his workshop in Nevada.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Boxes labeled "Alcatraz" held mail clippings, photos and more.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall was one of the principle organizers of the historic Occupation of Alcatraz that took place from 1969 to 1971.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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The roundhouse of Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall that is made entirely of tires.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Tools in Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall's home.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Artwork and tools in Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall's home.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Tools in Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall's home.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Artwork in Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall's home.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, an organizer of the Alcatraz Occupation, stands outside his family home in Nevada.(Photo by Jarrette Werk)
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Jarrette Werk, A’aniiih and Nakoda, is junior at the University of Nevada Las Vegas studying multimedia journalism. Werk has been a fellow of the Native American Journalists Association since 2017.

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