Who was Richard Oakes?
A Native American activist from the Mohawk culture and a helping hand for the change of the U.S federal government termination policies, Richard Oakes was a prominent personality. The credits of opening the culture’s rediscovered unity go to Richard for his world-famous 19-months activism part of ‘The Occupation of Alcatraz’.
He was the major reason for changing the lifestyle and culture of the Native US Americans and their culture with a livelihood. Richard Oakes was very key to the American Indian Rights Movement.
He gained success and recognition only after great hurdles and was known to have some tragically brief struggle for reclaiming his Mohawk culture into the U.S. Unfortunately, Richard Oakes was assassinated at the age of 30, leaving behind a whole history of reminiscence, active moments, and a long education.
Childhood and Education of Richard Oakes
Richard Oakes was born on May 22nd in 1942. At the Akwesasne location of Mohawk, he was born in St. Regis Mohawk Reservation that was a part of the U.S reservations that spreads till Canada and the St. Lawrence River. (New York and Canada border) From his young age, Richard Oakes knew about the respect and humanity that the Native Americans were in due.
Planting and fishing beans were most of his childhood days. it was also Richard’s ancestral childhood activities notably. He started his work St. Lawrence Seaway’s local dock and was soon laid off. He as 16 years at that time. Richard Oakes attended the Adirondack Community College and Syracuse University, both in the city of New York.
Then he got his job as a high steelworker that demanded him to travel for the majority of the days.
Richard met with an Italian/English woman during his work time at the Newport of Rhode Island Bridge. Oakes married her and had a son named Bryan Oakes on June 1968. He traveled West, divorcing his wife and leaving them both.
He enrolled at the San Francisco State University- SFSU, and where he also worked as a bartender at the Mission District of S.F. This is the time where he came in contact with the community of the local Native Americans.
Richard attended the San Francisco State University for his college education during his 20s. He felt that the studies were not coherent with his thoughts about the Native Americans and saw it a lethargic one. After his education, Richard Oakes, along with his Anthropology professor, and other colleagues started a new subject as ‘Native American Studies’, where they brought elderly U.S people to teach the students as a faculty. This form of American encouragement was seen first by Richard Oakes among the country.
The Beginning of an Activist
At the time of Richard’s new curriculum getting into the action, it was also the time where the Mohawk National Council began their fights for the oppression of their religion. This was a peaceful war and thus it was called the White Roots of Peace.
During his time at the SFSU, Richard was called for a rally for the members and students, with regard to the Native Americans. For promoting the forgotten history, Richard and a few others traveled to the symbolic Indian island of Alcatraz to draw attention about the education in 1969.
The Alcatraz travel group was led by the students and the Native Americans of the urban Bay Area. Richard Oakes also recruited 80 students of the UCLA from the American Indian Studies Centre. This activist movement lasted until 1971.
Richard Oakes and the Alcatraz
The Occupation of the Alcatraz was the longest federal activism that took place in the country. So many native boats have tried reaching Alcatraz but were in vain. When the boats stopped at their course, Richard swam through the island and took direct control of it. Many other Indigenous and Local Native Americans joined in the movement.
With effective organization power, Richard Oakes managed the team very well and led the group for a long duration. Unanimous consent of the members was the decision-making strategy. Each person had his or her own work including laundry, schooling, security, daycare, cooking, and sanitation.
The island started falling in disarray in 1970, when on January 5th, Yvonne, the adopted 12-years-old daughter of Richard Oakes demised due to the falling on concrete steps. Oakes had left the island after Yvonne’s funeral.
There was conflict among the Americans for taking charges and leading the group, after Richard left Alcatraz. Unfortunately, the indigenous community started to drift away slowly. In June 1971, the U.S government detached remaining 15 occupants from the island.
But gladly, as a result of the Alcatraz’s occupation, the official government policy of the U.S for the termination of India tribes was successfully finished and was replaced by the Indian self-determination programs.