Everything You Need To Know About Richard Oakes Activist

Who was Richard Oakes?

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.


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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. 

The demise of Richard Oakes


After the active leading of the occupation of Alcatraz, Richard Oakes was shot dead by Michael Morgan who was a YMCA Californian camp manager. Morgan was known to have nee strict and rough with the Native American children. He was also denoted as a white supremacist. 

During a confrontation, on September 20th of 1972, for the sake of saving his life, Michael Morgan shot the handgun against Richard Oakes. Kashia Indian Reservation Cemetery at Stewarts Point in Californian Sonoma County was the place of his funeral. 

Morgan was initially charged for manslaughter but a jury argued that the incident was an act of self-defense.  Hence, he was acquitted. 

Thus, Richard Oakes shot and killed at the age of 30. Today, Oakes was seen as an epitome for being an intelligent and charismatic leader. Richard Oakes is thanked for his unwavering dedication to society’s well-being. 


Tributes of Richard Oakes


There were numerous tributes given for honoring the life of the activist Richard Oakes. Some of the major ones:

  • 1971 – Leon Russell (musician) song about the occupation as ‘Alcatraz’.
  • 1984 – The Ballet song of Dead Warriors which was a part of the PBS Dance in America series, had Oakes’ life inspiration by Michael Smuin.
  • 1999 – SFSU dedicated the new Multicultural Centre after their former student Richard Oakes. They also established the American Indian studies department. 
  • 2012 – ‘Taking Alcatraz’ was a song by the band Field Report.
  • 2016 – Artist Magneto Dayo and ‘The Lakota Medicine Men’ honored John Trudell, Oakes, Russell Means, and others as well, from the song named “The Journey” from the album Royalty of the Under World.
  • 2017 – On May 22nd, the Google Doodle honored Richard Oakes for his 75th birthday. 

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Facts Worth Reading about Richard Oakes 


  • Richard Oakes had the notion to create a mobile University, where students can learn about Native Americans but this did not come fruitfully. 


  • Richard Oakes married Annie Marufano who was from Kashia Pomo Nation woman from an indigenous community of California in 1969. He was noted to have adopted all the 5 children of Annie.


  • Even after leaving the occupation of Alcatraz, Richard Oakes had actively participated in the Pit River Tribe which were 11 bands of the indigenous community of California. This was an attempt to secure their 3 million acres of land after getting it seized by the Pacific Gas and Electric.


  • Richard Oakes was victimized by billy clubs and tear gas. He was also noted for a barfight involvement that left him hospitalized, after returning to San Francisco.


  • “We invite the United States to acknowledge the justice of our claim” was a popular line that was stated by Richard Oakes.


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