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  A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE, written by Bernie Whitebear, Colville Confederated Tribes, Founder of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, written in 1994

A Brief History of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation

The March 8, 1970 invasion and occupation of Fort Lawton, an active military base in the northwest section of Seattle, was an attempt by Seattle's Native American community to establish a land base to serve the largest urban Native American population west of Tulsa and north of San Francisco.

Before the invasions and occupations, which lasted approximately three months, there were no Federal, State, County, or City funds available for services to Native Americans in Seattle. The only social services were provided by an organization of Indian women, operating from an old church, existing primarily on donations and volunteer help. The organization was the American Indian Women's Service League.

The only other services available were provided by an Indian free clinic, operating from donated space on the 2nd floor of the Marine Public Health Hospital on Beacon Hill, using the Ortho clinic three nights a week when not in use by the hospital, and staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, and donated pharmaceuticals.

The Indian free clinic later organized as the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) and today is the largest urban Indian health delivery system in the nation, and the first to receive a doctor, dentist, and nurse from the National Health Service Corps.

During the pre-invasion period in Seattle, Indians had little experience in preventative health care, seeking assistance only in emergency or life threatening circumstances. This situation was the result of our people being ping-ponged from one hospital to the next under the mistaken assumption that the Federal Government was responsible for the welfare of all Indians.

In reality, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the trust status and "advocacy" of American Indians: The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Indian Health Services (IHS), had already developed a policy that in effect meant, "Once you leave the reservation, you were no longer Indian." A technical translation basically meant that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services restricted their services to Indians who still resided on or near reservations and were under the administrative authority and jurisdiction of Tribal Governments.

This policy, which began with the Federal Government's attempt to move the Indian people off their ancestral lands and into the mainstream of society, was known as the "Termination era of the fifty's, "where the federal government set up relocation programs moving thousands of Indians into cities with promise of better employment and educational opportunities.

It was an attempt to terminate the tribes' trust status with the federal government and liquidate all tribal assets. The final injustice to Indian people by the government, after having reduced total Indian land to 55 million acres, and having preside over the decimation of Indian culture and religion. The grand planners of the Eisenhower administration saw this as the coup de grace in separating Indian people from their last vestige as a distinct race of people.

Alcatraz was deactivated as a federal penitentiary in 1963, shortly after what is believed to have been the only successful escape from the "escape proof" prison. In 1969, Indians in San Francisco Bay area occupied Alcatraz Island, in an attempt to use the former federal prison site as the location for a Native American cultural center.

Also in 1969, news surfaced that Fort Lawton, an active military base in Seattle, was going to be surplus to the Army's active miliary needs. The City had hopes that the property could revert to City ownership and be used for a grand park, somewhat on the scale of Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia.

At the time, federal law required that non-federal entities such as the City of Seattle would have to pay between 50-100% of fair market value, in order to receive the surplus property. This would have been an exorbitant cost that the City could not afford.

U.S. Senators Henry M. Jackson and Warren G. Magnuson, from Washington State, two of the most influential Senators in the U.S. Senate, introduced amendments in Congress to the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, to reduce costs for surplus property from 50-100% to 0-50%. In effect if the amendment passed, the City would be able to receive the multi-million dollar property at zero cost.

Bernie Whitebear and members of a newly formed American Indian organization in Seattle began making overtures to the City's leaders, requesting that a portion of Fort Lawton also be set aside to create an Indian Cultural Center similar to the plans of the "Indians of All Tribes" organization which was still occupying Alcatraz Island.

The City Administration, obviously not taking the request seriously, responded that maybe the Indians should wait until the City received the property and then they would review the request, and suggested that in the mean time, the Indians submit their request to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. By this action they acknowledged their ignorance of both the BIA's restricted service policy, which excluded urban Indians, and also the disregard and disfavor urban Indians held for the BIA.

A few week later, then Mayor of Seattle Wes Uhlman and Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson held a press conference on the Fort Lawton property, promising the community that it could look forward to the City receiving the land for the exclusive use as a City Park. No mention was made of the interest or desire of the American Indian community to participate in the City's future plans for the property, or the City's intention to include Indians in the planning process.

After many lengthy discussions on this issue, the Indians feared that unless some extreme actions were taken, the Indian interests would wane the dissolve as mere pipe dreams.

It should be remembered that at this point in time, a great many activist efforts were on-going throughout the nation, due in great part to the war in Viet Nam. Seattle had the Students for Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Panthers, United Black Contractors, Viet-Nam War and United Farm Worker protestors.

In Indian Country, tribes had been embroiled in fishing rights struggles against the State since the early 50's and fish-ins resulted in Indian tribal men and women and their supporters, being physically beaten and arrested by State and County police. Indian supporters included comedian Dick Gregory, actor Marlon Brando, and attorney Melvin Belli.

The only too recent assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, his brother Senator Robert Kennedy and the great civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., further enraged many people, including Indians, who felt that this nation had to reassess it's priorities, and in doing so, live up to the more than 300 treaties it used as a premise for stealing Indian land.

In essence, it seems there could have been no other choice for Seattle's Indian community, than to follow the activist efforts of a growing number of dissidents, discontent with the nation's seeming disregard for human equality. The stage now seemed set for the Indian community to follow the path of the "brothers and sisters" on Alcatraz, and attempt to physically occupy the Fort Lawton Military Base.

Information from the Indians of All Tribes on Alcatraz that some of them would be willing to travel to Seattle and join the occupation efforts added incentive to the on-going discussions. Similar committments from "envoys" from Canada and other hot spots sealed the decision to invade and occupy Fort Lawton.

The "Moccasin Telegraph" worked surprising well and within days, numbers of supporters began arriving in Seattle and moved into a number of community homes. Confidence increased with the arrival of Richard Oakes, the charismatic leader of Alcatraz and Grace Thorpe, daughter of the legendary Sac & Fox athlete, Jim Thorpe.

Ongoing demonstrations by American Indian soldiers stationed at Fort Lewis south of Tacoma and near Frank's Landing on the Nisqually Indian reservation brought together other coalitions represented by fishing rights activists and founders of Survival of American Indians which gave increased emphasis to the impending occupation.

This coalition was responsible for actress Jane Fonda's presence at Fort Lewis simultaneous to the date of the first invasion of Fort Lawton, March 8, 1970. Jane Fonda was encouraged to lend her support to the Fort Lawton battle and arrived in Seattle immediately. The support and presence of the internationally known Jane Fonda gave the invasion and occupation worldwide attention and captured the imagination of the world press. American Indians were attacking an active military fort along with one of the nation's leading opponents of the United States involvement in the Viet Nam war.

It seemed that what began as an effort to secure a land base for urban Indians had suddenly taken on a bizarre, ready for prime time, movie scenario, complete with soldiers defending an Army against modern day Indians and anti-war activists. Without really appreciating it at the time, the Indian movement had achieved through Jane Fonda's presence, a long sought credibility that would not have been possible otherwise. The evening before the first invasion, a pow-wow was held at the Filipino Community Hall in south Seattle. The purpose of the pow-wow was to announce the invasion plans to the largest possible gathering, including times and locations of the marshalling area for the organizing of car caravans.

The next day as scheduled, two half-mile long columns of vehicles began forming. The two caravans with vehicles displaying red cloth banners from car aerials, travelled on different routes to their two different invasion sites. The caravans reached their targeted sites on both the north and south sides of Fort Lawton and the Indians proceeded to climb fences, move in tipi poles and canvases, and set about occupying the property.

The Military Police and Army personnel responded by marching in formation and setting up skirmish lines in an attempt to close off further access to the interior areas of the fort. Military Police tried to arrest a number of Indians who had entered the Army chapel while Sunday church services were in progress, much to the surprise of the parishioners.

The arrests and jailing in the fort stockade of the "American Indian Fort Lawton Occupation Forces" continued throughout the afternoon and early evening, hand-to-hand combat happened frequently as tempers flared on both sides due to overly agressive handling by the MP's and extreme efforts by the Indians to avoid capture.

This pattern of urban guerilla warfare occurred again and again: Invasions, arrests, jailing, letters of expulsion from military property, physical effort off the fort, re-invasion. A tipi enchampment was set up at the main gate of Fort Lawton, and on going demonstrations to block traffic into the fort continued to be a constant form of harrassment to the MP's. The Army began getting heat from the Pentagon about not being able to secure Fort Lawton and the Army responded by moving in two companies of troops from Fort Lewis and fourteen truck-loads of concertina wire. In what seemed like overkill, the Army cordoned off the Fort with concertaina wire and manned foxholes, leaving only the main gate accessible.

After about three months, Indian leaders felt the encampment was becoming more of a liability than an asset, and plans were made for its dismantle. A press conference was scheduled at the Main Gate encampment to explain the next course of action. The MP's were ecstatic about the plans and were eager to assist in the taking down of the tipis. Their jubulation was short-lived when they discovered the press conference was called to reaffirm the Indian's claim to Fort Lawton and on signal, hundreds of Indians, followed by television news cameras, stormed past the surprised MP's for one last invasion through Fort Lawton's only access through the concertina wire.

Thus the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation was born, adding "United" and "Foundation" to the name borrowed from Alcatraz to show distinction between the two sister efforts.

The invasions and occupations had achieved on major objective, gaining committments of support from the local residents of Seattle. Over 40 non-Indian organizations throughout King County now supported the Indian's claim to part of Fort Lawton.

A delegation from United Indians managed to fly to Washington, D.C. and testify before Congressman Morris Udall's committee on Senator Jackson's Amendments to the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, later referred to as Senator Jackson's Fort Lawton Bill.

Congressman Brock Adams received the Indian delegation in his office and pledged to support their efforts with Senators Jackson and Magnuson.

In November of 1970, a delegation from United Indians attended the National Congress of American Indians in Anchorage, Alaska. In exchange for United Indians support in passage of block-voting rights for the Small Tribes of Western Washington (STOWW), the STOWW tribes helped pass a resolution requesting then Bureau of Indian Affairs Commissioner, Louis Bruce to place a freeze on the Fort Lawton property while in its Excess Status, thus blocking the City of Seattle's eligibility for the property. Cities, being non-federal agencies are only eligible to apply for federal property if the property has passed from "excess" to "surplus" status.

The Administrative Freeze was enacted, however; political pressure by the Department of Interior on the BIA forced an end to the freeze, but not until considerable attention was given to the United Indians plan by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) solicited applications for use of the Fort Lawton property and Regional Director Bernard "Buck" Kelly accepted the United Indians application for part of the property prior to the City of Seattle's application filing through the Department of Interior (DOI) for all of the property.

The General Services Administration, responsible for final disposition of federal surplus property, ordered the two sister federal agencies HEW and DOI to order their counterparts, the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation and the City of Seattle respectively, to negotiate and submit a single application before any property would be transferred.

After negotiating from July to November of 1971, it was agreed that United Indians would lease twenty acres for a ninety-nine year period, with options for successive ninety-nine year periods without renegotiation, and have full development and administrative authority to build its Indian Cultural Center.

The United Indians developed a Master plan which was approved by the City that provided for the development of several facilities: The Daybreak Star Arts Center, the Heritage Resource Center which included an Archives and Library, a Performing Arts Center, a Restaurant, and the People's Lodge, a multi-use facility.

Ground breaking for the Daybreak Star Center took place on September 27, 1975 and was completed and dedicated on May 13, 1977. Funding for the Center came from the City of Seattle, the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, private donations from the Colville, Quinault, and Makah Tribes, and from corporations.

In honor & in memory, Bernie Whitebear 1937-2000