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Alcatraz Island Golden Gate National Recration Area

Ranger Jose Rivera
Alcatraz Island
Golden Gate National Recration Area
Fort Mason, Building 201
San Francisco, CA  94123

Voice:              415-561-4912
Fax:                 415-705-1050

The National Park Service cares for special
places saved by the American people so that
all may experience our heritage.


Support a Living Indian Museum on Alcatraz and GGNRA

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area [GGNRA] (that includes Alcatraz, Crissy Field and Fort Baker) is in the process of developing a General Plan, which is a vision of the park for the next generation. A Concept Paper has been submitted to GGNRA to propose a “Living Indian Museum System through Civic Engagement.” In short, it is proposed that a Living Indian Museum System be established at GGNRA which consists of an “Alcatraz Island Intertribal Living Museum” and a California Indian component. The California Indian component will have two sites, one in the Crissy Field/Presidio area dedicated to the Ohlone/Costanoan and a second in Fort Baker to honor the Coastal Miwok people. The key to the development of the museum system and curriculum being, “Civic Engagement” or public involvement.

July 30, 2008 is when the General Plan planners want to start to working on the next phase of the project, so right now is the time! We need to let the planners know how much the Indian community wants both an Intertribal presence for Alcatraz and a California Indian presence for GGNRA. However they will continually accept input after that date. Please spread the word to every & any one who would be interested in supporting a Living Indian Museum System at the GGNRA. Please send emails of support to:



Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Living Indian Museum System


Civic Engagement

Jose Rivera, Ranger

Alcatraz Island/NPS

Civic Engagement, a Native Perspective:

Ancient Greece is not the only place in which democracy was practiced and refined.  What gave birth to the idea that the separate colonies could unite for their mutual benefit?  One only has to look to their back yard, the Americas.

The Irokwa (Iroquois) Confederacy originally united five nations (tribes), later to incorporate a sixth to become known as the Six Nations.  During the time of French encroachment, in 1742 an Irokwa Sachem (chief) named Canassatego answered a request to meet with Pennsylvanian officials, to discuss a “League of Friendship.”  Later in 1744 at Lancaster, Pennsylvania Canassatego offered a bold new idea to the colonialist,

Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations.  This made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations.  We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power.  Therefore what ever befalls you, never fall out with one another.

This bold new idea was debated within the colonies, not only against French encroachment, but against British tyranny was well.  Influence of the Irokwa Great Law and their united confederacy was gaining popularity among the colonialists.  The Irokwa influence was gaining so much ground that the royal governor, George Clinton of New York, complained that the democratic leaders of the colonies “…were ignorant, illiterate people of republican principle who have no knowledge of the English Constitution or love for their county.”

Another Irokwa intellectual and leader was Tiyanoga, a Mohawk Sachem that the British referred to as Hendrick.  Hendrick was at the Albany Conference of 1754, in which he helped to frame the Articles of Union.  In fact, Hendrick and Canassatego are known as the forgotten Founding Fathers of the United States.  It was at the Albany Conference of 1754 Hendrick shared with the assembled colonialists the structure of the Irokwa Confederacy.  The Onondagas were the Fire Keepers (Executive Branch) with the Seneca, Mohawk, Cayuga, and Oneida organized in the Longhouse of the Elder Brothers (Senate), and the Longhouse of the Younger Brothers (House of Representatives).  Sachems (chiefs) were elected by the Clan Mothers (Electoral Votes).  The Unites State symbol of the Eagle clutching Thirteen Arrows representing the Thirteen Colonies, originally held five arrows then later six arrows for the tribes of the Irokwa Confederacy.  The influences of the Irokwa Confederacy upon the merging United States of America are too many go into any depth in this paper.  However, the Irokwa influence is well documented for any scholar to research.

Tribal governments are based on citizen participation.  The U.S. Founding Fathers saw democracy as a side issue, they were mainly focused upon establishing a “Republic.”  In the Republic, citizens are the government, “government of the people, for the people.”  Thus, the need for a well informed and educated voting constituency, which is the original goal of the U.S. public school system.  An important class was “Civics,” in which one learned of their civic responsibilities, such as paying taxes or serving jury duty to name a couple.  Citizen participation in their government is the basis of our democratic republic, thus the basis of “Civic Engagement.”  NPS through Civic Engagement is encouraging the public to return to the original spirit this country was based on, citizen participation.  To participate with their government through the National Parks Service, for the benefit of our future generations.

– The Living Indian Museum:

The Living Indian Museum celebrates “Living Indian Cultures” and embraces the culture as a whole, not just the “artifacts.”  Through Civic Engagement the Golden Gate National Recreation Area would work directly with Tribal and Community Museums to enable them to “Tell Their Own Story.” The Living Indian Museum concept is an enlighten museum approach that accomplishes many positive things: address and counter ‘institutional paternalism,’ contributes to ‘Indian cultural preservation’ by empowering the Native communities to tell their own story, while providing the visiting public with a superior first hand educational experience.

– Telling Their Own Story:

The GGNRA through Civic Engagement would enable Native communities to “Tell Their Own Story” by providing them with a space and expertise, thus creating a Living Museum. GGNRA could suggest a thematic architecture, but ultimately it is up to the Tribe to determine what subject matter and techniques they need to tell their story.  Suggested themes could be: 1) Our Ancestors: Pre-Contact, 2) The Dark Cloud: Contact with Europe, 3) Survival and Adaptation, 4) We Are Still Here: The Living Culture.  Tribes may choose any combination of themes, or select a single theme.  The Tribe could use any combination of techniques to share their story such as storytellers, living history demonstrations, hands on replicas, interpretive panels, real artifacts, audio-visuals or computers.

– A Living Indian Museum System:

There needs to be more than one Living Indian Museum at the GGNRA due to the diverse nature of the Native Bay Area, California and American Indian cultures; plus the profound significance Alcatraz Island has in the Indian world.   The Living Indian Museum system would consist of two facilities (Alcatraz & California Indian Living Museum), with one facility containing two sites.  Each site would have multiple gallery areas to accommodate more than one exhibit at any one time. With the multiple gallery concept, it provides a chance for many Native communities to “Tell Their Own Story.”

One facility, the Alcatraz Island Intertribal Living Museum would have a broader cultural brush stroke, analogues to the National Museum of the American Indian.  The California Indian facility would have two sites.  One site would be located in the Crissy Field area dedicated to the South Bay Costanoan/Ohlone people, and provide public transportation access to cultural programming.  The second site would be at Fort Baker dedicated to the North Bay Coastal Miwok people.  These three Living Indian Museums would meet many of the needs the California Indian people and the general American Indian community has been asking for in a “community orientated museum.”  Civic Engagement is the key to the Living Indian Museum’s success; and a long-term relationship with the Native communities is vital.

Each Living Indian Museum (Alcatraz, Crissy Field, Fort Baker) would have slightly different goals, but with the same mission – celebrate and understand the living American Indian cultures.  There are various ‘multiple-museum systems’ models to draw upon such as the Museum of New Mexico, which is in fact a consortium of museums.  There is the National Museum of the American Indian with its four-museum concept: the main gallery on the National Mall, the Storage & Conservation facility, the Heye collection in New York and a Traveling museum.

There is no need for GGNRA to develop a collection for the Living Indian Museums because there are many collections at hand.  Examples are, the GGNRA Living Indian Museum system can become an affiliate to the Smithsonian and the National Museum of the American Indian, Tribal and Community Indian Museums, the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, and a large portion of the California State Indian collections is not from California.  Therefore, if the Tribal exhibit needs an artifact, there are many of places for the Living Museum/GGNRA to draw from.

The Alcatraz Island Intertribal Living Museum (AIILM).  Two of the most significant legacies of the Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island are: the acknowledgement that Native Cultures are still alive, and a sense of Hemispherical Intertribal Unity.

Civic Engagement for the AIILM would be on a national and international level, working with Tribal Museums through out the United States, Canada and Latin America.  Due to the broad geographic area the AIILM will be dealing with, operational control must remain with the Alcatraz Island curatorial staff.

Through Civic Engagement an appropriate museum location site can be determined in cooperation.  The selection committee would determined if an existing building should be renovated, or start a new facility from scratch.

One recommendation is to place for the AIILM on the ground level of the New Industries building that faces the Golden Gate.  There are two large rooms in the New Industries building that could accommodate the AIILM.  The first room should be a transition room and the second room the actual gallery area.  The gallery area (interior of second room) needs to be encapsulated to provide a museum quality environment to control light, temperature and humidity.  The impressive view of the Golden Gate needs to be maintained for dramatic effect, with sealed UV filtered glass and if need be inner partitions.

The first room could have interpretive panels explaining the Living Indian Museum concept and program.  Most importantly, the first room would be an environmental transition space.  If the first room is not enough of an environmental buffer to maintain the environmental controls in the gallery room, then it is recommended that a rotating glass door be used to maintain the environmental seal in the gallery room.

Another recommendation would be to refurbish what is now called the “Chapel” next to the Electric Shop.  The main consideration for this building is to create a handicap access.

If it is determined that a new facility is needed, a recommended site would be at the edge of the Parade Grounds facing San Francisco.  Site location, size and other details would be negotiated through Civic Engagement.

The California Indian Living Museum (CILM).  The CILM is a ‘two-sites’ facility to highlight the diverse Bay Area cultures.  Each CILM site would have multiple gallery areas.  The main gallery area at each site would be dedicated to the local people Miwok, or Costanoan/Ohlone people.  A second gallery area would be dedicated to all California Indian people on a rotating basis.  A third gallery area would be open for traveling exhibits, or other American Indian tribal people to use.

There is about thirty years worth of testimony, reports and community meetings with the California Indian community by California State Parks, dealing with the need for a new California Indian Museum.  A consistent and repeated theme statewide from the California Indian community is a distain for a large tourist style museum that attempts to “interpret” the diverse California cultures in one facility.  The Native people do not want a museum that treats Indian culture like artifacts; dead and extinct.  The State Parks Native American Task Force in 1977 envisioned the, “… State Indian Museum would not be a single entity but would, in a sense, constitute a hub of a wheel with at least six radiating spokes [Regional Indian Museums] (State Parks, 1977: 6).”  The GGNRA can become the “hub” of a new California Indian Museum cultural wheel.

The CILM is a way for the GGNRA to meet the stated needs of the California Indian community, contribute directly to cultural preservation and provide the park visitor with a unique view of California Indian culture.  The CILM is a unique and fresh museum approach, and will not conflict or duplicate the work presently being done by California State Parks, but it would complement it.  Perhaps through Civic Engagement, GGNRA and California State Parks could work together with the California Indian community to create a comprehensive California Indian Museum System.

The California Indian community has consistently advocated a “Regional Indian Museum” approach.  The Regional Indian Museum approach makes the institution more accessible and alive to the diverse California Indian communities statewide.  The 1977 Native American Task Force recommended,

    “Our current plan is to interpret Indian history throughout time with major emphasis on the ethno historical period.  We are dealing with six cultural areas and possibly subdivisions of these.  These cultural areas are, specifically: the Northwestern cultural area, Northeastern cultural area, Central Valley cultural area, Southern cultural area and the Colorado River cultural area (State Parks, 1977: 1).”

There is no need for the NPS and the GGNRA to create any “Regional Indian Museums,” only organize the California Indian Tribal and Community Museums into a consortium through Civic Engagement.  The Tribal Museums in effect becomes the GGNRA’s Regional Indian Museum system.  Thirty years ago the Indian community was reliant upon the State of California’s resources to develop a new State Indian Museum.  At the present time the situation has reversed, many California Tribes now have the resources to develop their own Tribal Museums.  A consortium of California Tribal and Community museums would be the “real grass-roots” California Indian Museum.

Crissy Field Site:

Located at the Northern tip of the South Bay, the Crissy Field site would honor and highlight the Costanoan/Ohlone people.  This site would build upon the outstanding work and foundation the Crissy Field staff has already accomplished through Civic Engagement. Since Crissy Field already has on-going interpretive programs for the community, and has public transportation access it would be ideal for the CILM’s education and outreach center.  Educational programs could be created that are appropriate for the site.

Fort Baker Site:

Located at the Southern tip of the North Bay, the Fort Baker site would honor and be dedicated to the Coastal Miwok people.  Civic Engagement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (who are federally recognized) would be essential.  There are several recommendations for a Fort Baker location.

    • 1) Take over one of the Officer’s Houses surrounding the Parade Grounds.  2) Take over some rooms in the Administration Building also on the Parade Grounds.
    • 3) If a new site needs to be built, there are two recommendations for its footprint.
      • a) An area that is presently fenced off, in between the Discovery Museum and the Coast Guard Station, and between the Parade Grounds and the shoreline Parking Lot.
      • b) Another site could be on the footprint of a non-historical warehouse building in between the Discovery Museum and the Administration building, above the Parking Lot to the rear of the Jail House (across the street from the Discovery Museum).

For the last 30 years the California Indian people, through California State Parks, have consistently referred to a basic criteria that they would like to see in a new cultural facility(ties).  One major point being, the Regional Indian Museum approach.  The following points make Fort Baker the best choice for the northern site of the CILM.

  • The California Indian community has consistently stated they would like a new cultural facility near or on the water. Fort Baker with Horseshoe Cove would be ideal for aquatic educational programs and a “Grand Vista.”
  • The museum should be located so there is access to a naturalistic area for educational programs on how the California Indians utilized their natural resources. Fort Baker sits next to the Marin Headlands, a perfect place for California Indian educational programs.  The Marin Headlands would provide a more naturalistic educational experience Crissy Field could not.
  • Fort Baker was the site of a former Coastal Miwok village, thus able to convey a sense of continuity.
  • The Fort Baker Parade Grounds would be ideal for cultural special events.
  • Park Partners: the new CILM would become a member of the GGNRA Park Partners program and able to form working partnerships with other members.  The CILM would not only have its own educational programs, but also work with the Marin Headlands Institute (and Crissy Field) to improve their programs and conduct mutual programs.  The Bay Area Discovery Museum is always looking for ways to form community partnerships to diversify their audience.  The Discovery Museum has a new state-of-the-art auditorium and other educational facilities that are rarely used that could be utilized by the CILM.
  • If the CILM were based out of Fort Baker, Marin County, it would be eligible for funding from the Marin Community Foundation and provide an outside source of funding for educational programs and special events.

– Phase 1: Data Base Collection:

In order to successfully outreach to the American Indian community through Civic Engagement, a data base of Tribal and Community Indian Museums is needed.    The following progression is recommended:

  1. California Tribal Museums
  2. California Indian Community Museums
  3. Tribal Museums Nationally
  4. Community Indian Museums Nationally
  5. Tribal Museums in Canada
  6. Community Indian Museums in Canada
  7. Tribal Museums in Latin America
  8. Community Indian Museums in Latin America

– Phase 2: Letters of Support from Tribal Governments and Tribal Museums.

Through Civic Engagement GGNRA/NPS would go to tribal governments and tribal museums to ask for their support of the Living Indian Museum concept.  This can be done through Letters of Support.  This is how the National Museum of the American Indian started, and it would be wise to ask for their support and help as well.  After gaining enough support within the Native communities for the Living Indian Museum system, then we gather the interested parties for the next phase.

– Phase 3: Public Meetings.

It is recommended that public meetings within the Native communities be set up to galvanize support for the Living Indian Museum concept.  The intent of the public meetings is to form a support base leading to a consortium of Tribal Museums and Community Indian Museums.  The public meetings would first focus on California Indian communities, and then Indian communities nationally.  Finally if possible a few selected Indian communities in Canada & Latin America, to once again follow the precedent established by the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. After the public meetings, then Conferences would bringing together the Native community and museum professionals to form a Museum Consortium.

  • Phase 4: Conferences

The conferences would lay the basic groundwork for the consortium.  It would be up to the consortium to determine a selection process for the rotating exhibits, time periods, parameters, educational programs, and determine locations for the new facilities.

  • Phase 5: Develop a General Plan.

Once Native community support is secured and a direction set by the Museum Consortium, then a General Plan needs to be developed.  The General Plan would set the basic precepts for the Living Indian Museum System, locations of sites and other necessary logistics needed to create the Living Indian Museum system at GGNRA.  The General Plan would also be a guide for its development and maintenance.

– Phase 6: Development Plan.

With community support from Tribal Governments and Tribal Museums, with a General Plan in hand then a Development Plan needs to be created.  The Development Plan would set a course on fund raising, professional support, and other logistics.  The last step is to implement the Development Plan.

– Final Thoughts:

This proposal is the ideal, in terms of its development.  It would be ideal if each spoke of the Living Indian Museum System (Alcatraz, Crissy Field, Fort Baker) be developed at the same time, each with the necessary resources and staff.  However, the beauty of this proposal and a Regional Indian Museum approach is, they can work in tandem as well as independently.  Each Museum spoke may have its own evolution.  One spoke may have a faster building period, another may excel in community outreach, while another in naturalistic interpretive programs.  Each site in its own organic evolutionary development.

If the Civic Engagement efforts are successful, the California Indian and general American Indian community will feel that this is “their museum.”  Per the basic precepts of Civic Engagement it is vital that the Indian Community be full-fledged partners from the inception.

Ishi looked upon us as sophisticated children, smart but not wise.  In we know many things, but much of it is false.  But, he knew nature which was always true.“  A.L. Kroeber, describing Ishi’s thoughts.


      • 1977 Native American Task Force Recommendations, California Department of Parks and Recreation.  Recommendations that resulted from an Intertribal Conference at D.Q. University, submitted to the Director of California State Parks, Herbert Rhodes.  January, 1977.

1991 California Indian Museum Study, California Department of Parks

      • and Recreation.  Commissioned by and submitted to the State Legislature under Statues AB 1580, to study the feasibility of establishing a new California Indian Museum.  October, 1991.

2003 Comments on the 1991 California Indian Study, California

      • Department of Parks and Recreation.  Special report by Dr. Bruce Bernstein, Assistant Director of Cultural Resources National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.  January, 2003.
      • 2003 Director Order 74A, National Parks Service.  Director Order on Civic Engagement & Public Involvement.  Director Fran P. Mainellla, November, 14, 2003.


Alyssa Macy
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon

Indigenius Media

International Indian Treaty Council

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