Native Voices, Common Cause

GLIDE celebrates Native leadership on the 50th anniversary of the Alcatraz Occupation

We hope you will join us at 9:00 am this Sunday, October 13th, at GLIDE Church for a very special Celebration. In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the Marin Theatre Company will be presenting a scene from the powerful play Sovereignty by playwright, attorney and activist Mary Kathryn Nagle about the historic and continuing struggles of the Cherokee Nation for jurisdiction over their land, including a female attorney’s fight to ensure protection of Native women under the Violence Against Women Act. Join us in honoring the history and the ongoing struggle, and celebrating the contributions, cultures and resilience of our indigenous communities.

This year, Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend coincides with two important anniversaries, as we commemorate 50 years since the Native re-occupation of Alcatraz Island and the struggle for Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. Fifty years ago, GLIDE’s community supported both of these struggles and the movements that gave rise to them.

The 14-month occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans, led by the group Indians for All Tribes, sught the reclamation of Indian land and justice for treaties broken by the United States government.

“GLIDE provided an office for AIM [American Indian Movement] back in the ’70s, and had a deep and meaningful relation with them and their elders,” notes GLIDE Co-founder Janice Mirikitani.

“We supported the Alcatraz movement and the indigenous community who were there by housing their possessions while they occupied the island. We also involved AIM leaders with other civil and human right groups, including the Black Panthers, and activists in the Latinx and Asian America communities in coalitions around many common issues.”

Reverend Cecil Williams and Dennis Banks, Executive Director of the American Indian Movement (AIM), in 1974.

The student strike at SF State demanding the inclusion of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University altered the curriculum of education and the course of history not just in the Bay Area but across the nation.

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we celebrate and reflect on these efforts of truth-telling and self-determination with one of GLIDE’s longtime community members: educator, artist and Native American activist Dr. Betty Parent.

“I relate so deeply to this anniversary of the Indian occupation of Alcatraz,” says Betty. “The occupation was a lightening moment for the modern Native community because it followed the relocation period when Indians both voluntarily and forcibly migrated to metropolitan areas where they found themselves surrounded by sagging promises.

“Alcatraz was an abandoned prison and, according to treaties, when land is taken for a purpose like the military and not used anymore, the Native people should take it back. This occupation catapulted the city and San Francisco State into the national news.”

Betty, as a member of the Yup’ik tribe, grew up in a tiny village on the banks of Alaska’s Kushokwim River. “Eskimo was my first language and even still, when I am feeling creative, it is difficult for me to express it in English,” she says. “It just makes more sense in Eskimo.”

Migrating from her indigenous community to the big city, Betty describes her early experience of “urban life” living alone in a busy metropolitan area as a “spiritual desert” — until she found GLIDE.

“When I joined GLIDE, it was like being picked up and taken home,” she recalls. “It was a very supportive spiritual environment where you could openly express yourself, which is something I really needed and continue to need.”

Betty’s quest to be a teacher eventually led her to the Bay Area. After graduating from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, she received her master’s from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. After that, she became the first Alaskan Native American woman to earn her doctorate from Stanford, in 1984. She went on to spend the next several decades as the first full professor in American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, where she developed the curriculum and established a model of excellence in teaching, research and community service.

Betty’s legacy continues to break through barriers. San Francisco State now offers the Betty Parent Achievement Award scholarship to support the academic endeavors of American Indian Studies students. When asked about her hopes for the future Betty reflected on her college days. Carved into the interior sandstone walls of Stanford’s Memorial Church is a quote that Betty describes as summarizing her philosophy and inspiring her education efforts. The inscription reads:

“We must not desire to begin by perfection. It matters little how we begin provided we resolve to go on well and end well.”

By Erin Gaede