In late November 1969, a group of San Francisco Bay Area Indians seized Alcatraz Island after the San Francisco Indian Center burned down. Then, in February 1970, they drafted a grant proposal to convert the island into a cultural-education center.  Ironically, shortly before, Alcatraz was one of the nation’s most prominent high-security prisons. However, these Indians wanted Alcatraz to be “focused on the Indian people” and “a place of our own. Somewhere that is geographically unfeasible for everybody to come and interfere with what we would like to do with our lives.”  Author Sherman Alexie, himself a Spokane Indian, tells a similar story of liberation and struggle in his semi-autobiographical novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Focused around the teenage boy Arnold Spirit, Jr., Alexie superbly blends the adversity and hopelessness of reservation life with Arnold’s strong desire to attain a better future beyond the “rez.” Just as the Bay Area Indians were fighting for an island of their own, Arnold is searching for a place in the world where he can find both acceptance and success. You could say that Arnold is searching for his own Alcatraz Island.
Arnold’s journey begins with his transfer from Winnipit Reservation High School to the well-regarded and nearly all-white Reardon High School off the reservation. However, this decision is not solely self-motivated. Arnold, angered over the outdated resources of his reservation school, throws a book at his teacher and is suspended. Much to his surprise the teacher comes to him to confess the pain he, as a white reservation teacher, has seen and caused on the reservation. He warns Arnold, “if you stay on this rez they’re going to kill you. I’m going to kill you. We’re all going to kill you.”  Inspired to escape the vicious circle of reservation life, Arnold decides his only choice is to do the previously unthinkable, break from his tribe.
This break is only the first, and possibly easiest, part of Arnold’s journey. Leaving Winnipit causes him to lose his best friend, Rowdy, while his acclamation to Reardon is anything but smooth. As “half Indian in one place and half white in the other,” Arnold feels like a stranger in both worlds.  Though he wants to embrace Reardon with all its opportunity and hope, he finds the rejection on the rez hard to stomach. The reservation, with its alcoholism and low education, is often not a pleasant place. He remarks, “Reservations were meant to be prisons, you know? Indians were supposed to move onto reservations and die.” . But unfortunately for Arnold, this prison also contains many of the people he loves most.
Yet, at Reardon Arnold becomes highly successful. He dates the popular and lovely Penelope and becomes a star basketball player. And it is through basketball that his conflict comes to a head. The Spokane Indians’ mentality in Winnipit towards their Reardon rivals is much like it is with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, you are either with them or against them. Following a less than pleasant reception at the first game between Reardon at Winnipit, Arnold prepares for a rematch at Reardon’s gym. In a blaze of glory, Arnold shuts down Rowdy, his former best friend and Winnipit’s best player, to lead Reardon to victory. Caught up in the moment Arnold thinks, “We had defeated the enemy!…We were David who’d thrown a stone into the brain of Goliath.”  But then the realization comes to him- the Indians are still the losers, they are David. As said by the Bay Area Indians, “while we were physically away, we still had our families and people in our hearts and on our minds.”  With a heavy heart, Arnold is surprised to find shame and confliction in a moment which he believed would be full of glory.
At Alcatraz the Bay Area Indians faced uncertainty and resistance, just as Arnold faced unsuspected challenges and pain. But as the Bay Area Indians eventually failed in their attempt to gain Alcatraz, Arnold begins to build his own “island” in the world. In a touching reunion ending the novel, Rowdy tells Arnold that he is the “nomadic” Indian in a world where nomadic Indians have almost disappeared. Arnold travels from place to place to sustain himself in a world with sparse resources. We are left with the feeling that Arnold will be one to succeed and go out into the world proclaiming, “We are a proud people! We are Indians!” 
 “Planning Grant Proposal to Develop an All-Indian University and Cultural Complex on Indian Land, Alcatraz,” in Great Documents in American Indian Histor, ed. Wayne Moquin (Da Capo, 1995), 374.
 Ibid, 375-6.
 Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007), 43.
 Ibid, 118.
 Ibid, 195.
 “Planning Grant Proposal,” 377.
 Ibid, 375.