I can't even explain all the magic that took place on Alcatraz Island the morning of "Thankstaking" (as my daughter calls it) this year. It was something so beautiful to witness and really only could be felt by being there but I will try to describe it...
This year me and my oldest daughter had the pleasure of joining the Indigenous People's Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island. Every year this ceremony takes place on Thanksgiving day to honor the 1969 Occupation of Alcatraz. The ceremony really celebrates the resistance & resilience of Indigenous People's as well on a day that is otherwise meant to rejoice in their slaughter.
I've had issues for many years past celebrating Thanksgiving, as it originally was to celebrate the day that the puritan soldiers set the Pequot village on fire and massacred 700 Native men, women, and children. They declared it a day of thanking God that they had secured the land on the Mystic River for themselves by eliminating the village. With such a dark history at it's roots Thanksgiving is not really a day to celebrate. But just like most American holidays that stem from places that we are unaware of we go along with it because that is "our" tradition.
Well I am starting a new tradition this year and I will take my daughters to the sunrise ceremony for all the rest of my years. It feels much better to honor Indigenous People who are alive and celebrating their culture. I appreciate their strength and resilience even in the face of trying to be wiped out.
We took the Alcatraz ferry under the cover of darkness and arrived to the Island around 6 am. The glowing lights of the city made for a magical backdrop. But what we witnessed was even more special. Singing, dancing, prayers all in the name of remembrance & resistance.
Speakers came who were there for the original occupation of Alcatraz and recounted their days on the rock. The occupation of 1969 was basically Indigenous People trying to reclaim some of the land that had been stolen from them. Since this is all stolen Ohlone land we stand on. Leaders from many different tribes rode over to Alcatraz and claimed the island for their own by citing the treaty of Fort Laramie which was between the U.S. and the Sioux stating that all retired out of use land be returned to Native Peoples. Hundreds of Natives made the Rock their home in that time as they reclaimed their land. In June of 1971 the occupation ended due to different power shifts, the death of the daughter of Richard Oakes, and a fire that had swept the buildings. But every year to celebrate the un-thanksgiving the sunrise ceremony takes place.
There was a children's dance at one point that made me cry watching the beauty and innocence of the children. There was one little boy in a white headdress hoping around to the beat of the drums and my emotions hit me like a ton of bricks. How could anybody be so evil that they wanted to hurt/ kill/ eliminate/ wipe out these people or any people. I had a big knot of shame in my throat being a white woman coming from the side of the oppressor. A wave of guilt and hurt overcame me and I started crying. Thinking about the beauty that is other cultures and everywhere around the world you see white people go in to communities of color trying to "colonize" /wipe out and eliminate this beauty for their own selfish gains.
One woman singing had the most beautiful voice and sang "Red, Black, white, and yellow step into the group as one, begin again in peace and beauty mend and offer what we've done- this is the unification of all Nations..." Her voice was so beautiful and seemed to be calling the sun to rise. There were lots of traditional songs with drumming that could be felt deep down in your heart. At one point overhead all the seagulls were flying and looked like they were gathering for the song. Her song made me realize the best thing we can do is support and heal each other but we have to be conscious of our actions. All I can do is be an ally and speak up for when I see injustice taking place in the world. Use my white privilege to help others as best I can instead of being a silent bystandard.
We all put our hands up to the sun in prayer as we prayed for the healing of Mama Earth together as one. That prayer felt powerful to do with hundreds of other people. The sunrise the whole ceremony was indeed something so amazing to witness, the twilight was so many shades of beautiful the whole time. But nothing was more beautiful than praying for the healing of the world together as one with people from all different backgrounds & walks of life.
Colin Kaepernick was there very close to where we were standing. I didn't realize until later but he was being honored that day. He was brought in the middle of the circle and an elder praised his efforts to stand up for injustice and people of color everywhere. Kap gave a great speech after where he recognized that the struggle of all oppressed people of color is actually the same struggle. He also paid homage by saying that the song, dancing, and prayers are ways of resistance- that's how we can fight and resist by keeping culture & tradition alive. I thought that was a beautiful sentiment.
At the end of the ceremony traditional dancers with their colorful clothing and beautiful bead work took center stage for a dance that was their culminating prayer. The sound of their anklets shaking and the motions in which their bodies were dancing to the rhythm and awakening the sun was so touching to witness. A dance of glory, beauty, resistance, and remembrance.
The whole morning was spiritually soul shaking. I will never forget it and hope to bring my children every year to the sunrise ceremony for years to come.
P.s. You were not really supposed to be taking pictures so that is why there are not more of the actual ceremony...