Richard Oakes Activist

Richard Oakes Activist

Richard Oakes Activist

Richard Oakes Activist (May 22, 1942 – September 20, 1972) was a Mohawk Native American activist. He spurred Native American studies in university curricula and is credited for helping to change US federal government Termination policies of Native American peoples and culture.

Oakes led a 19-month occupation of Alcatraz Island with LaNada Means, approximately 50 California State University students, and 37 others. The Occupation of Alcatraz is credited for opening a rediscovered unity among all Native American tribes.

Richard Oakes Activist
Richard Oakes Activist

Richard Oakes Activist Assassination

Oakes was disappointed with the classes offered at SF State and went on to work with an anthropology professor to create one of the first Native American Studies departments in the nation. He developed the initial curriculum and encouraged other Native Americans to enroll at San Francisco State University. At the same time, the Mohawk National Council was forming and traveling in troupes to fight the oppression of Mohawk religion by means of peaceful protest, which they called White Roots of Peace.

In the spring of 1969, Oakes met the members of the White Roots of Peace, who encouraged him to take a stand and fight for what he believed in. Oakes had also gained the support of many students. He went on to play an integral role in the Occupation of Alcatraz. Also in 1969, he married Annie Marufo, who was part of the Pomo Nation, and Oakes adopted all five of her children.

Richard Oakes Activist Biography

Richard Oakes was born on May 22, 1942, in St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, a location known in Mohawk as Akwesasne, the US portion of a reservation that spills into Canada across the St. Lawrence River. Like many of his ancestors, Oakes spent most of his childhood fishing and planting beans. He then began working at a local dock area on the St. Lawrence Seaway but was laid off at the age of sixteen, after which he worked as a high steelworker, a job that entailed a great deal of traveling.

While working on the Newport, Rhode Island Bridge, Oakes met and married an Italian/English woman from Bristol, Rhode Island. They had one son, Bryan Oakes, who was born in June 1968. Richard left the two, divorcing his wife, and traveled west. He reached San Francisco and decided to enroll at San Francisco State University. While studying at SFSU, Oakes worked as a bartender in the Mission District of San Francisco, which brought him in contact with the local Native American communities.

Richard Oakes
Richard Oakes

Richard Oakes Activist Murderer Michael Morgan

After leaving Alcatraz, Oakes continued his resistance. He helped the Pit River Tribe in their attempts to regain nearly 3 million acres of land that had been seized by Pacific Gas & Electric. Oakes also planned to create a “mobile university” dedicated to creating the opportunity for Native Americans, but this never came to fruition. As a result of his activism, he endured tear gas, billy clubs, and brief stints in jail.

Soon after Alcatraz, Oakes was shot and killed in Sonoma, California, by Michael Morgan, a YMCA camp manager. Morgan had a reputation for being a white supremacist and being tough with Native American children. Oakes reportedly violently confronted him, and Morgan alleges he was in fear for his life and responded by drawing a handgun and fatally shooting Oakes. Oakes was unarmed when he was shot. Morgan was charged with voluntary manslaughter but was acquitted by a jury that agreed with Morgan that the killing was an act of self-defense. Oakes supporters contend the shooting was an act of murder, and that Morgan received support from a racially motivated jury and district attorney.

Oakes died on September 20, 1972, in Sonoma, California, at the age of 30.


  • In 1971, musician Leon Russell released a song about the occupation titled “Alcatraz”.
  • In 1984, television stations broadcast the ballet Song for Dead Warriors as part of the PBS Dance in America series. The ballet, choreographed by Michael Smuin, was inspired by Oakes’ life.
  • In 1999, San Francisco State University dedicated its new Multicultural Center after their former student. His student-led occupation led to the establishment of an American Indian Studies Department at SFSU.
  • In 2012, the band Field Report paid tribute to Oakes and his occupation of Alcatraz in the song “Taking Alcatraz.”
  • In 2016 the artist Magneto Dayo and The Lakota Medicine Men paid tribute to Oakes, Russell Means, John Trudell, and others on a song called “The Journey” on the album Royalty of the UnderWorld.
  • On May 22, 2017, Oakes was recognized with a Google Doodle to mark what would have been his 75th birthday.
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