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On this Thursday morning, before sunrise, hundreds of American Indians – and non-Native allies – will gather on Alcatraz Island for “The Indigenous Peoples Gathering Sunrise Ceremony.” The annual event is organized by the International Indian Treaty Council.

The annual event began in 1975. Since then, with exception to during the Covid-19 pandemic, 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.”

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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 have 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; LaNada Means (Shoshone Bannock Tribes), now known as Dr. LaNada War Jack;  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.”

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.”

 ( 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.

If you plan to attend:

Meet at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing in san Francisco is the launch site to Alcatraz Island. All visitors must wear a proper face covering while in the boarding queue at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing and while aboard Alcatraz City Cruises' ferries.

Alcatraz Landing includes the Ticketbooth and waiting and boarding areas, all of which are accessible. Accessible bathrooms are found at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing and on all Alcatraz Cruises vessels.

Please note: there are no wheelchairs available for loan either at Pier 33 Alcatraz Landing or on Alcatraz Island. 

Departure Times:

4:15 am, 4:30 am, 4:45 am, 5:00 am, 5:15 am, 5:30 am, 5:45 am, and 6:00 am.

CLICK for Ticket Information.

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].