Published November 22, 2016
ALCATRAZ ISLAND – On Thursday morning, before sunrise, hundreds of American Indians – and non-Native allies – will gather on Alcatraz Island for “The Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony.”
Every year since 1975, American Indians have journeyed from the mainland to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on Thanksgiving Day. Previously the day was called “Un-Thanksgiving Day.”
In modern times, Alcatraz Island has become a symbol to American Indians. It is a symbol of both struggle and hope. The affinity American Indians has with Alcatraz Island goes deep.
For years, the island was home to a federal penitentiary there. Called the “Rock,” the penitentiary’s most famous inmate was notorious gangster Al Capone.
After the prison closed in 1963, American Indians began to petition the federal government to put it into “Indian land.”
From November 1969 to July 1971, a group of American Indians took over and occupied Alcatraz Island led by Mohawk, Richard Oakes; Grace Thorpe, Sac and Fox, who was the daughter of Olympic great, Jim Thorpe and Tuscarora medicine man, Mad Bear Anderson. The group was called the Alcatraz Red Power Movement and was also known as the “Indians of All Tribes.”
Throughout the occupation, numerous American Indians went to Alcatraz Island to participate in the occupation. Among them, several members of the American Indian Movement, including Dennis Banks, Russell Means, and Clyde Bellecourt, went there. Another iconic name among American Indian leaders who went there was Wilma Mankiller, who became the first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
American Indians will gather at Pier 33 at Bay Street in San Francisco to be ferried to Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz is closed for the day for regular visitors, but from 4:45 AM till 6:00 AM the ferries run every 15 minutes and bring people to the island to celebrate the Alcatraz Thanksgiving Indigenous People’s Sunrise Gathering. After the event the ferries run until the last sailing at 8:45 AM, when all visitors must leave Alcatraz.
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