Détournement, Decolonization, and the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island (1969–1971)
Abstract: On November 20, 1969, eighty-nine American Indians calling themselves the “Indians of All Tribes” (IOAT) invaded Alcatraz Island. The group’s founding proclamation was addressed to “the Great White Father and All His People,” and declared “We, the Native Americans, reclaim the land known as Alcatraz Island in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery” (2). Tongue-in-cheek, the IOAT offered to purchase Alcatraz Island for “twenty-four dollars in glass beads and red clothe.” In this essay, I illustrate how the IOAT engaged in a rhetoric of détournement, or a subversive misappropriation of dominant discourse that disassembles and imitates texts until they clearly display their oppressive qualities. I argue that the Proclamation established a textual framework that calls for a skeptical and irreverent reading of dominant discourse. I conclude that strategic détournements suture dominant discourses to the moniker of colonialism and invite sympathetic audiences to engage in decolonization.