Tale of Two Cultures: Putting Things in Perspective

View of San Francisco skyline from Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island

View of San Francisco skyline from Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island


Among American Indians, Alcatraz Island symbolizes resurgence among Native cultures throughout Indian country. It was November 1969 – some 44 autumns ago – when a small group of American Indians took over the island as a means to fight for American Indian rights. They remained there for some 18 months.

Since 1969, American Indians have come to Alcatraz Island on Thanksgiving Day – though it was referred to as Un-Thanksgiving Day and now Indigenous Sunrise Ceremony Day – to have a sunrise ceremony.

This past Thursday, some 3,500 American Indians and their allies arrived by ferry before dawn and begin a fire, drum and dance. Prayers went up to the Creator. Speakers openly discussed issues still faced by American Indians.

At least eight of the original 1969 Alcatraz Island  were there on Thursday to participate in the sunrise ceremony. They were: Doug Duncan, Lenny Foster,  Chris Longoria, Eloi Martinez, Bill Means, Fred Short, Madonna Thunder Hawk and LaNada War Jack.

“I want to thank the many heroes and young people—who are now parents and grandparents—who had the courage to occupy this island. We honor you. That action you participated in took us all the way to the United Nations where we finally got the recognition of our rights and treaties. I want our young children to realize what a great part of history you are now participating in. We are here to dedicate our lives to this traditional Native way of life,” said Andrea Carmen, executive director of the International Indian Treaty Council, which organized the event.

This week’s Photo of the Week is courtesy of Christopher Burquez. He captured part of the crowd with the San Francisco skyline in the background. One reader posted on the Native News Online Facebook wall: “Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?”

The photograph is a powerful image of two cultures. It shows vibrant American Indians who can celebrate our culture – in spite of abandonment as represented by the empty buildings on Alcatraz Island and a vibrant city across the bay.

Nanette Bradley Deetz contributed to this article. 

PHOTO Courtesy:  Chrisopher Burquez


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  1. Beth 5 years ago
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