Forum Editor: San Francisco Chronicle
March 8, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of an event that should disturb every American citizen. One of the dark, sinister, not-so secret facts of U.S. history is the incontrovertible evidence that the US government unilaterally and illegally broke nearly all of its treaties with Native American tribes. The actions were justified on the basis of situational ethics and dubbed “manifest destiny.” However, in a pathetic attempt to atone for their sins, legislators passed a law that would return any US property deemed “surplus” back to Native tribes. Alcatraz Island is a daily reminder of how the “law” has failed miserably.
In March of 1963, the US Department of Justice closed Alcatraz Prison and declared the property surplus. On March 8, 1964, a small group of Native Americans claimed their lawful right and moved onto the island. They were not planning to construct a morally bankrupt casino, but wanted to establish a living/working/historical museum that would showcase and celebrate thousands of years of Native American history. They imagined workshops being conducted in weaving, basket-making, pottery, art, music, ecology and spirituality.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the US National Park Service claimed the property off of the surplus list and declared that they would convert it into a National Monument.
There is no doubt, that if John Muir were the current president of the Sierra Club, one of his top priorities would be to have the NPS removed from Alcatraz and the island returned to Native American ownership. He was a soulful man with impeccable integrity and could not have abided the hypocrisy. Furthermore, the “monument” would have been diametrically opposed to his vision of the NPS. People do not go to Alcatraz to be “spiritually reborn;” They do not go there as a “place to play and pray;” They do not go there to have their “cares drop like autumn leaves.” The entire situation would have been nothing less than an abomination.
Invoking Plato’s triad of truth, beauty and goodness:
There is nothing beautiful about the NPS involvement with Alcatraz.
There is nothing good about the operation, except possibly the jobs provided for rangers and aides who have no moral basis for working there.
And finally, as far as truth is concerned, the entire operation is based on lies, deception and US government corruption.
In a bitter irony, the NPS wanted to make a national monument out of Alcatraz. Instead, they have created an ugly scar that is a daily reminder of the cruelty and injustice that the US has accorded the people who lived here for thousands of years before us.
San Francisco has prided itself for challenging all forms of social injustice, so why, for 50 years, have San Francisco’s esteemed politicians turned a blind eye to the ugly scar in the middle of their beautiful bay?
Every boatload of tourists that arrives at Alcatraz is a boatload of contempt heaped on the memory of the Red man. The USNPS is complicit in this travesty and tarnishes the legacy of the service that John Muir envisioned.