Hundreds Expected to Gather on Alcatraz Island for Annual Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony

Thanksgiving sunrise with view of Golden Gate Bridge from Alcatraz Island

Published November 21, 2017

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.”

Hundreds of American Indians will participate in the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Sunrise Gathering

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.


Alcatraz is closed each year on Thanksgiving morning 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 from Pier 33 until the last sailing at 8:45 AM, when all visitors must leave Alcatraz.

Tickets cost $14 per person and are free for kids under 5.

The box office opens at 3:00 AM Thanksgiving morning, or you can buy tickets online here and avoid the (highly probable) risk of the event selling out. You can also buy tickets in person in advance at Pier 33. If it does sell out only a very small number of tickets will be available the morning of the ceremony.

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  1. Clarence White 1 year ago
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