Thanksgiving Gathering: Indigenous People Gather Annually on Alcatraz

Thanksgiving Gathering: Indigenous People Gather Annually on Alcatraz

San Francisco : CA : USA | Nov 23, 2010 at 1:42 PM PST
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Sunrise and Stream of Clouds over the Bay ~

Historical Perspective

Early use of Alcatraz Island by the indigenous people is difficult to reconstruct, as most tribal and village history was recorded and passed down generation-to-generation as an oral history of the people. A large portion of this oral history has been lost as a result of the huge reduction of the California Indian population following European contact and exploration. It appears that Alcatraz was used as a place of isolation or ostracization for tribal members who had violated a tribal law or taboo, as a camping spot, an area for gathering foods, especially bird eggs and sea-life, and that Alcatraz was utilized also as a hiding place for many Indians attempting to escape from the enslaving California Mission system

European discovery and exploration of the San Francisco Bay Area and its islands began in 1542 and culminated with the mapping of the bay in 1775. Early visitors to the Bay Area were preceded 10,000 to 20,000 years earlier, however, by the native people indigenous to the area. Prior to the coming of the Spanish and Portuguese explorers, over 10,000 indigenous people, later to be called the Ohlone (a Miwok Indian word meaning "western people"), lived in the coastal area between Point Sur and the San Francisco Bay.

Indigenous Peoples’ Thanksgiving on Alcatraz

Once known as Un-Thanksgiving, the Indigenous Peoples' Thanksgiving Day Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay has been held since the 70's, not long after an Indian group occupied the island in a 19-month standoff. Homage is paid to those who have died defending native lands, and activities include traditional dances by Indian groups from around the country and the world, including the Aztec nation, as well as speeches and prayers by Indian advocates like the actor and writer Floyd Red Crow Westerman.

On the morning of November 20, 1969, 79 American Indians, including students, married couples and six children, landed on the island (despite an attempted Coast Guard blockade) and began their Occupation.

The stated intention of the Occupation was to gain Indian control over the island for the purpose of building a center for Native American Studies, an American Indian spiritual center, an ecology center, and an American Indian Museum. The occupiers specifically cited their treatment under the Indian Termination Project and they accused the U.S. government of breaking numerous Indian treaties.

Richard Oakes sent a message to the San Francisco Department of the Interior:

We invite the United States to acknowledge the justice of our claim. The choice now lies with the leaders of the American government - to use violence upon us as before to remove us from our Great Spirit's land, or to institute a real change in its dealing with the American Indian. We do not fear your threat to charge us with crimes on our land. We and all other oppressed peoples would welcome spectacle of proof before the world of your title by genocide. Nevertheless, we seek peace.[2]

The event is called the Sunrise Gathering for good reason. The first boat to the island leaves Fisherman's Wharf just before sunrise. Despite the hour, in past years more than 3,500 people have attended, filling boats that make numerous trips to the island.

''We've had to turn people away,'' said Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, which runs the event. ''There's just not enough boat space.''

Annual Gathering November 25, 2010

International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Contemporary Arts present: Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving

Annual Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island

November 25th 2010

“Giving Thanks to the Creator and Mother Earth for our Survival

and Spirit of Resistance; Dedicated to our Ancestors, Sacred Places and Future Generations”

LIVE BROADCAST: begins at the break of dawn

With guest speakers, Drummers, Aztec and Pomo Dancers, Maori Haka, Jeremy Goodfeather and other special presenters; MC Lakota Harden

Boats depart from Fishermanʼs Wharf,

Pier #33, San Francisco

Tickets: $14 adult, children under 5 free. Ticket booth opens at 4:15 a.m., Boats begin departure from Pier 33 at 4:45 and continue thereafter every 15 minutes until 6:00 AM All return by 9 a.m. Wheel chair accessible and all are welcome to attend.

Purchase advance tickets at or call (415) 981-7625.

This event will be broadcast live on 94.1 FM KPFA (and from 6-8 AM.

Please respect that NO SALES WILL BE PERMITTED on the Island or the Alcatraz Cruises dock and parking lot.

For more information contact IITC Information office at 415-641-4482 or email

Morning Star Gali

IITC Community Liaison Coordinator, International Indian Treaty Council

2940 16th Street, Suite 305, San Francisco, CA 94103

Office: 415.641.4482; Fax: 415.641.1298; Web Site:

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Indigenous Peoples' Thanksgiving
Annual Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island November 25, 2010
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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