January 24, 2008

Auctioning the Alcatraz flag

Disputed Alcatraz invasion flag on blockSometime during the 19-month American Indian occupation of Alcatraz that began in 1969, a banner called Old Glory's Helper Flag flew from one of the island's guard towers.

Whether the tepee-emblazoned flag flew for 10 minutes, 10 months, or more, no one seems to know for sure. But Thursday, the flag, designed by Lulie Nall, a Penobscot Indian who struggled for years to promote it as a American Indian symbol until her death in 1983, is expected to sell for between $100,000 and $150,000 at an auction in San Francisco, according to an auction house.

"It's not just a flag. It's a moment in history," said Bruce MacMakin, a senior vice president with PBA Galleries on Kearny Street, an auction house that specializes in Americana. PBA Galleries is auctioning the flag on behalf of Daniel Hagar, a Florida man identified as the stepson of Nall's nephew.

In the past week, as word has spread among American Indians about the auction of the flag, Nall has been called both a peace activist and an opportunist. Her flag has been deemed insignificant by some and a historical artifact by others. The occupation's key organizers do not seem to remember her or the flag, yet most agree that Old Glory's Helper should be preserved.

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