LaNada War Jack

1947 -
Jasmine Daria Cannon, NWHM Predoctoral Fellow in Women's Studies l 2022-2024

LaNada War Jack is an indigenous activist, who since childhood, has fought to preserve Native American identity and tribal rights. She is a part of multiple generations of Shoshone and Bannock peoples who have made a life of fighting for Native tribal sovereignty, land and water rights, and access to quality education. She is most known for significantly contributing to the Alcatraz Occupation, however she continues to serve as a professor, author, and activist. 

LaNada War Jack (born LaNada Vernae Boyer) was born to Olive May and Edward Qweep Boyer, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in 1947 (Warjack, “Biography”). Her mother, a military veteran, and her father introduced her to tribal politics and activism, which shaped her lifelong career of Native American activist efforts. Her paternal grandfather, Tan mon mah, is remembered as “the last war chief protecting the women and children from the sheep eater campaign” during the late 1860s (Alvarez, 2013). Tan mon nah served as the leader for the final part of the American Indian Wars in the Pacific Northwest to preserve indigenous sovereignty during westward expansion. Her maternal grandfather, Chief Tahgee, was important in establishing the Fort Hall Indian Reservation during the same time period (Klenck). Additionally, he created strict regulations for how to create treaties with the United States after generations of failed compromises and promises from the federal government. Her story is connected to many other generations and is one of perseverance through displacement, continued living through colonial violence, and upholding indigenous traditions through white settler erasure. 

War Jack’s activism deepened as she continued her education. She has been incorrectly reported as having been the first Native student admitted to and enrolled at the University of California — Berkeley. Yet, she did play a pivotal role in establishing a historically significant Native American student community on campus (Ho, 2018). She was one of UC-Berkeley’s earliest Native American students, and recruited several others to join her as students on campus. This cohort of a dozen Native students successfully protested for a formal Ethnic Studies department, so that they could learn about Native history and politics in class. Many of these students also organized to create the Native American Student Organization on campus, which served as a safe haven for Native students to share their identities and cultures with others. Additionally, as part of the Third World Strike movement, their on-campus activism branched onto other California campuses, creating a community of students invested in Native education and rights. This movement, which was influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, empowered people of multiple races and ethnicities to work together for social justice. 

LaNada War Jack talking about the 1969 Alcatraz Occupation

Between 1969 and 1971, War Jack was one of the core Occupation of Alcatraz organizers and one of the 14 original occupiers (Friedler, 2019). The Occupation started after the Treaty of Fort Laramie (date), which promised to return retired and abandoned federal lands to Native Americans. Alcatraz Island, located in the San Francisco Bay, was formerly the site of a federal prison from 1934 to 1963. Around this time is when she took on the last name War Jack, instead of her last name assigned at birth, as a form of reclaiming Native identities and traditional naming practices. Both of her children lived with her on the island during the Occupation. Her son, Denyon Means became known as the “Alcatraz Kid,” and would later share his stories about growing up during the 19-month long peace protest. In 1970, War Jack graduated with her independent studies degree in Native American Law & Politics. Despite being excluded from retellings of the Occupation, one protestor has credited War Jack as being “the real leader of the occupation” (Terry). 

Protest has taken many shapes during War Jack’s life, but so has her leadership. In 1999, she earned her Doctorate of Arts degree in Political Science and her Master’s in Public Administration from Idaho State University. Between 2005 and 2008, she served as Executive Director of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and as a professor of Native American History at Creighton University and Haskell Indian Nations University. She was also the Distinguished Professor of Native American Law and Politics at Boise State University (Berkeley, 2021). 

Now considered a community elder, War Jack continues to share her wisdom with Native people in the form of public talks and writing, as well active participation in non-profit organizations that focus on Native American sovereignty and preserving Native heritage. Since 2008, she has served as the President of the Indigenous Visions Network, which is an Idaho-based non-profit offerings consulting and educational training (LinkedIn). She has also more recently continued contributing to Native movements in the U.S., as one of the prominent Indigenous voices advocating for water and land rights during the 2016 Standing Rock protests (Pokibro, 2016). In 2019, she published her book, Native Resistance: An Intergenerational Fight For Survival and Life.  

Dr. LaNada War Jack has served as an inspiration to many Native American activists for decades. Her story, similarly to her ancestors, is one of forging Native American identity and preserving tribal rights.