Adam Fortunate Eagle

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Adam Fortunate Eagle
Adam Nordwall


Adam Fortunate Eagle L.H.D. (born Adam Nordwall), hereditary member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, is a Native American activist and was the principal organizer of the 1969–1971 Occupation of Alcatraz by "Indians of All Tribes".

Early life[edit]

Born in the missionary section of the Red Lake Indian Reservation in 1929, Nordwall was the son of a Swedish man and an Ojibwe woman.[1] When he was five, his father died, leaving his mother no choice but to send him and four other children away to boarding school. He attended the Pipestone Indian School in Minnesota[1] and the Haskell Institute in Kansas, where he took advantage of the time to improve many skills that would help him later in life as well as escape the Great Depression, famine, and disease that was running rampant on reservations at the time. There he met his future wife, the Shoshone Indian Bobbie.[2]

California years[edit]

After their marriage, the Nordwalls moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1951. Nordwall worked as a licensed termite inspector and by the late 1960s owned his own company in San Leandro, the First American Termite Company.[1] Although living a comfortable life, Nordwall felt that he and his family needed to learn more about who they were as Native Americans. He became more involved in local Indian affairs and became chairman of the United Bay Area Council of American Indian Affairs.[1] It was at this time that he proposed the takeover of Alcatraz.[3]

In 1968, at the Bay Area Italian-Americans' annual San Francisco reenactment of Columbus' landing in America, having successfully lobbied to have the Indians portrayed by genuine Indians rather than costumed Boy Scouts, Nordwall flicked the wig off Joe Cervetto, playing Columbus, with his ceremonial staff in a symbolic scalping.[1]

After he donated an 18-foot totem pole to the city of Livermore in 1969, the city shortened it before installing it in a park, and Nordwall placed a curse on their sewer system until they restored the cut off section.[1]

Nordwall began to seriously plan the takeover of Alcatraz, and he met with Richard Oakes, a local student activist, at a Halloween party at Tim Findley's house in 1969. He proposed the date of November 9 and Oakes agreed to get as many students as he could.[4] Nordwall took care of providing transportation to the island. However, on the date, none of the ships were there and the press were wary of the Indians all dressed up in their tribal wear. Nordwall found a captain who seemed interested in the events of the day and talked him into providing transportation. He agreed but said he would not dock on the island, to which Nordwall agreed.[5] Once near shore, Oakes seized the moment and jumped overboard, followed by a few of his fellow students. Nordwall stayed behind and watched as Oakes and his band struggled to reach the shore. The captain returned to shore a little while later.[6] Nordwall was not satisfied with just having been around the island and wanted to go back. Oakes and his fellow students were returned by the Coast Guard, and Nordwall asked if they wanted to try again that night. So once again Nordwall, Oakes and some two dozen other Indians set off for Alcatraz. As they approached, stormy weather and a watchdog caused the captain to become wary. Oakes and three women managed to get off, while Nordwall was left on the ship with the remaining Indians.[7] On the day of the actual takeover Nordwall was out of town, but on Thanksgiving he came riding across the bay standing on the prow of his ship exactly like George Washington.[8] Although he never lived on the island, Nordwall helped from the shores and was able to assist those on the island and keep the press reporting on the occupation while at the same time bringing to light the plight of the Native Americans. Nordwall was still active in Native American affairs after the Alcatraz occupation. He served mostly as a liaison between the Bay Area Council and the press.

Nordwall later taught Native American studies at California State University, Hayward.[1] In September 1973, on his way to the International Conference of World Futures, he descended from the plane in Rome in full tribal regalia and claimed the country "by right of discovery" in the manner Columbus had claimed America.[1][9] Invited for an audience with Pope Paul VI, instead of kissing the papal ring, he offered his own ringed hand in return; the Pope grinned and clasped his hand.[1]

Nordwall filed for bankruptcy and left the Bay Area in 1975 after his pest control business incurred fines for environmental code violations and underpayment of taxes.[1]

Writing and film[edit]

He wrote "The Alcatraz Proclamation to the Great White Father and his People", which states that the goal of the occupiers was to create a center for Native American studies, an American Indian spiritual center, an Indian center of ecology, and a great Indian training school, none of which came to be on the island.[10] While the occupation of Alcatraz seemed a failure on the surface, the federal policy of termination of all tribes ended in 1971, and self-determination became the new policy. Many consider the Alcatraz occupation the beginning of the "Red Power" movement. His 2008 book Heart of the Rock is the story of that "invasion".[1]

Fortunate Eagle performed the voice of Sitting Bull in the feature-length documentary Sitting Bull: A Stone in My Heart.[11] He is also the subject of a feature-length documentary called Contrary Warrior: The Life and Times of Adam Fortunate Eagle[11] and wrote a book on his experiences as an Indian boarding school titled Pipestone: My Life in An Indian Boarding School.

His most recent work, Scalping Columbus, is a compilation of his own anecdotes.

He is the father of poet nila northSun.

Later life[edit]

Nordwall received his Indian name Fortunate Eagle from a Crow Indian when he was 42.[1] He now lives on the Paiute-Shoshone Reservation, where his wife was born; he has built a roundhouse out of tires and other recycled materials.[1] In the 1980s he won awards for his sculpture; he also makes ceremonial pipes and headdresses, and in 1987 was jailed and tried for selling eagle feathers. His criminal trial ended in a hung jury but he was found guilty and fined in a civil trial.[1] He is a ceremonial leader and leading statesman for his people and is heralded as one of the greatest Indians of his generation.[2]


  • Alcatraz! Alcatraz! The Indian Occupation of 1969-1971 (1992)
  • Heart of the Rock: The Indian Invasion of Alcatraz (2008)
  • Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School (2010)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Sam McManis, "Profile: Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwal: Bay Area's trickster grandfather of radical Indian movement", San Francisco Chronicle, October 21, 2002.
  2. ^ a b Synopsis, Sitting Bull.
  3. ^ Adam Nordwall in American Indian Activism: Alcatraz to the Longest Walk, ed. Troy R. Johnson, Joane Nagel, and Duane Champagne (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997, ISBN 9780252023484) 52-55.
  4. ^ Nordwall, 65.
  5. ^ Nordwall, 68.
  6. ^ Nordwall, 71.
  7. ^ Nordwall, 73.
  8. ^ Paul Chaat Smith and Robert Allen Warrior, Like a Hurricane: The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee (The New Press, 1997)  23.
  9. ^ Miami News, September 23, 1973: "An interesting switch was pulled yesterday by Adam Nordwall, an American Chippewa chief. As he descended his plane from California dressed in full tribal regalia, Nordwall announced in the name of the American Indian people that he was taking possession of Italy 'by right of discovery' in the same way Christopher Columbus did in America. 'I proclaim this day the day of discovery of Italy,' said Nordwall. 'What right did Columbus have to discover America when it had already been inhabited for thousands of years? The same right I now have to come to Italy and proclaim the discovery of your country."
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b

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