Teela Shandess/International Indian Treaty Council Facebook
The Sunrise Ceremony ended with Aztec dancers performing while drummers welcomed the sun.

An Indigenous Peoples’ Day Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz Island

Nanette Deetz

A Sunrise Ceremony was held on Indigenous Peoples’ Day at Alcatraz Island to celebrate “523 years of indigenous resistance, honor our ancestors and future generations,” according to the International Indian Treaty Council Facebook page, the group who co-organized the event.

It was also held to honor those who called themselves “Indians of All Tribes” and occupied the island from 1969-71.

Andrea Carmen (Yaqui Nation), International Indian Treaty Council director, welcomed everyone by saying that the “stars above this morning represent the spirit of our ancestors, and they guide us. We are reminded by our ancestors to be strong and to stand up and resist. Today we are in a country that celebrates genocide and slavery on this day. Yet we are here, sending our prayers to indigenous people throughout the world, to scatter the seeds of resistance, like a new beginning, to make a new world. We stand in solidarity and we are stronger together.”

Carmen reminded those gathered that it was 46 years ago that students from San Francisco State University stood up for Indian people at Alcatraz Island, and as a result we now have the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The morning began with traditional California Native singing and dancing from the Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone Band. Then, Duane Chiliyazzie, from the Diné Nation (Navajo) at Shiprock, Arizona gave a shocking report about polluted water in nation. “We are now facing devastation at the hands of the EPA. We have three million gallons of pollution from mining waste that has been dumped into the river water that our people use for drinking and to water our crops. We have lost most of this year’s crops of corn, and our elders and spiritual leaders can no longer gather the precious corn pollen from the tips of the corn for our ceremonies. I am here to give gratitude to Creator and to re-affirm that we vow to re-consecrate our commitment to Mother Earth, to solidarity. We indigenous people are the ones who know the earth, the fire, air, and water. We are the ones who will guide humanity forward. Let us stand strong for our grandchildren to come.”

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Bill Means (Lakota), of the American Indian Movement, said: “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to remind white America that we discovered Columbus. When he landed here he was sick, destitute, and wrapped in rags. We nursed him back to health, and he re-paid us with slavery, colonialism, and genocide. Today we celebrate the renewed spark of the flame that led to the Alcatraz resistance to colonialism and genocide.”

Dancers and singers from Hawaii performed and expressed gratitude for the continued resistance and solidarity of Native American movements. This group is currently resisting the construction of a 30-meter high telescope on Mauna Kea, one of the highest mountains and the most sacred to the Hawaiian people. Like California’s indigenous people, they believe that all the mountains are connected, and that they communicate with one another.

The morning’s ceremonies were completed with Aztec dancers performing while their drummers welcomed the sun.

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