Auction of Alcatraz Flag Stirs Debate, Memories

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A flag said to have flown during the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz nearly 40 years ago went on the auction block earlier this month, stirring debate and reviving old memories. It wasn’t clear how big a role the flag had in the 1969 protest and some participants said they didn’t recall it and were dismayed at the idea of it being sold for profit.

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“I think that’s a stretch, to call that historic,” said Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwall, one of the organizers of the 19-month occupation. “When I look at the picture of that flag, it really doesn’t do anything to me as an artist, or as a Native American. It really is not symbolic of the Indian cause.”

But Bruce MacMakin, senior vice president of PBA Galleries in San Francisco where the flag was sold, said the seller provided detailed documentation, including a 1970 photograph from the San Francisco Chronicle that showed it flying on Alcatraz and a snapshot of the woman who designed the flag handing it over to be raised.

“It was just fascinating,” MacMakin said.

Eventually, the flag sold for $69,000, including the buyer’s premium, to an unidentified private collector, MacMakin said. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday that the flag was being sold.

Known to many as “The Rock,” home to a now-closed federal penitentiary, Alcatraz also was the site of three American Indian occupations, the longest and best-known of which began on Nov. 20, 1969, when organizer Richard Oakes led a group of supporters to the island.

The protest got massive attention and drew thousands of American Indians from around the country. The occupation ended in June 1971, but the movement it inspired continued, inspiring a new era of American Indian activism.

At the time of the occupation, Nall, a Penobscot Indian, was living in San Francisco. The flag she designed, which consists of red and white stripes with a teepee made up of stars, was intended as a symbol of unity honoring American Indians, according to paperwork accompanying the flag.

The flag was sold on behalf of Daniel Hagar, a Florida man who said Nall, who died in 1983, was his stepfather’s aunt.

Hagar, 55, said he contacted museums and some tribes before putting the flag up for sale, but no one wanted it except as a gift. He said he hopes the flag eventually is put on display.

“It’s quite a piece of American Indian history,” he said. “I just thought it should be where other people could see it.”

Nordwall, who did not live on Alcatraz during the occupation but made frequent visits, wasn’t happy about the auction, but was glad to see interest being paid to a key moment of American Indian history.

“That’s the positive side as I see this story,” said Nordwall, now 78 and living on a reservation in Nevada. “It gets people reacquainted with the fact that there was an occupation of Alcatraz.”

For more information go to www.pbagalleries.com/search/item188251.php?

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