International Indian Treaty Council Holds 39th Annual Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island

Crystal Lameman speaks at Alcatraz Island on Indigenous Peoples' Day Sunrise Gathering

Crystal Lameman speaks at Alcatraz Island on Indigenous Peoples’ Day Sunrise Gathering

ALCATRAZ ISLAND — This past Monday, some 1,000 American Indians from northern and southern California, Canada, Mexico, and Indigenous Pacific Islanders with their supporters ferried to Alcatraz Island from San Francisco’s Pier 33 to participate in the 39th Annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day Sunrise Gathering.

They rose early to gather to greet the sun and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ continued survival in this post-colonial era.

This year’s ceremony was again organized by the International Indian Treaty Council, San Francisco. Andrea Carmen, executive director of the Council, welcomed all present to historic Alcatraz Island. The Master of Ceremonies was Lakota Harden (Lakota/Hunk pa) who graciously introduced each guest speaker. Youth from the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California gave their time and energy to build the ceremonial fire and keep watch throughout the evening before sunrise.

Before sunrise, Ann Marie Sayers (Coatanoan Ohlone) welcomed everyone present to Ohlone land, upon which Alcatraz Island sits. She reminded everyone that “We are still here. We still exist and are not going anywhere. I encourage everyone present to go the San Francisco Main Library and view the current exhibit of Ohlone culture, traditions, and history”. Kanyon Sayers-Roods, her daughter then sang her own version of the Grandmother’s song as welcome to all.

Danza Azteca Group danced

Danza Azteca Group danced

Radley Davis of the Pitt River Nation in Burney, California, greeted all with a traditional story about lizard and turtle. This story reminds the people about who you are as a man and a woman. “May you renew who you are! Help us learn to be kind to one another. Never forget our mothers and fathers,” said Davis. Davis reminded those present that “this island is the place where our ancestors stay before they go out through the western gate.” He then graced all with a beautiful song in his language.

Doug Duncan, from the Robinson Pomo Nation of Northern California first danced and was honored here on Alcatraz Island in 1992. During this ceremony his daughter and granddaughter danced with him while he sang the “Miracle Song.”

“My oldest daughter has given me the strength to dance today. I sing this Miracle Song because it is a true miracle to be able to deal with this world today. The oppressor has been attacking our young men, beating them, jailing them once again,” said Duncan.

Lakota Hardin & Fred Short

Lakota Harden & Fred Short

Corrina Gould (Northern Ohlone) welcomed all to her land, and blessed the ancestors for giving us life and the strength to continue resistance to colonialism, the prayers to save sacred sites. The blessings and words of Corrina Gould hold special places in our hearts and minds, because the bones of her ancestors and relatives are still here, held captive in a University basement, some still under the very pavement we walk and drive upon daily in the Bay area.

During her welcome, Andrea Carmen, executive director of International Indian Treaty Council, acknowledged the success of the first official Indigenous Peoples Day adopted by the city of Berkeley in 1992.

“Today, Minneapolis and Seattle are following in our tradition of activism here in the Bay Area. We will have rights for Indigenous Peoples throughout the world. We will have justice, we will honor our Mother Earth. We will fight for our future generations. We have programs today to help our children learn their language and customs. We have established agricultural programs, we are preserving language and defending our sacred sites against all odds. I thank you all on behalf of my children and grandchildren,” stated Carmen.

Crystal Lamemen, from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Canada, spoke eloquently and articulated the concerns of her Nation and many others in Canada about the Tar Sands oil drilling and pipelines. Ms. Lamemen is an activist and the Peace River Tar Sands Campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network. She has won numerous awards and honors for her tireless work on behalf of her nation and the environment. “We are all a conduit for our ways of knowing and being. We are stewards of our one true mother. I stand here from my relatives, my family. I give thanks for those who came before us and all those who will come after. At blue dawn I give thanks to the female. Your strength and determination will assure us that the water of life will always be here for future generations,” said Lamemen.

Allyssa Macy, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon, was designated to be a representative of the Global Women’s Caucus and is a member of the Global Planning Commission for the United Nations World Conference for Indigenous People that took place on September 22 and 23 in New York City. She spent two years planning and working on this and in June traveled to Alta, Norway where all seven geopolitical regions met and created a global platform to present to the United Nations. Ms. Macey explained that the four primary themes presented dealt with 1) land, territories, resources, oceans and waters; 2) implementation of rights of indigenous peoples; 3) make sure the UN declaration is implemented on a state and international level and 4) priorities for development will include pre-prior informed consent. She articulated that the Outcome Document was adopted by the United Nations.

One of the most inspirational presentations came from a group from the Pacific Islands. “We bring heartfelt greetings to the first peoples of this land. We greet your people from our people. We greet your mountains from our mountains. We greet your oceans from the oceans that bind us to you. We give thanks for our lives, our ancestors, all that they went through so that we can stand here today.” The group included Ms. Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu, Loa Niumeitolu, and Nikolasi Niumeitolu from Tonga, Leonard Tebegetu from Papua, New Guinea, Sekio Fuapopo, Harrison Seuga, and Jean Melesaine from Samoa, Huana and Natalie from Aotearoa (New Zealand), and Paul Kealoha Blake from Hawaii.

This group presented songs, and a powerful traditional song by Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu and Loa Niumeitolu that was then responded to by two men.

As the sun rose, seven different Aztec dance groups combined together to greet the sun and dance for mother earth, and all living beings.

Nanette Bradley Deetz is of Dakota, Cherokee and German descent. She is a poet, writer, educator and sometimes musician whose poetry appears in several anthologies. The most current is “Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down,” published by Scarlett Tanager Press; “Turtle Island to Abya Yala, A Love Anthology of Art and Poetry by Native American and Latina Women,”

Editor’s Note: Photographs Credit – Alison Ehara-Brown

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