ALCATRAZ— While some Americans were celebrating Columbus Day, hundreds gathered at sunrise on Oct. 8 on Alcatraz Island for a ceremony celebrating Indigenous People’s Day.
While the sunrise ceremony has been held for many years, Monday’s ceremony marked the first since the San Francisco City Council voted to join a number of cities across the nation in an effort to change the city’s official observance from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.
Many in attendance said they felt a spiritual connection to the ceremony, which included a prayer circle, singing, dancing, chanting and informal speeches.
“This ceremony is like a cleanse,” said Roberto Solis, a fifth-year attendee with Indigenous roots from Mexico. “We try to find our healing through our culture.”
The event, organized by the International Indian Treaty Council– a non-profit organization working to protect the rights of Indigenous people — aims to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day while also serving as a reminder of a historical occupation of Alcatraz by Native American activists nearly 50 years ago.
In 1969, 89 Native American men, women and children sailed to “the rock” after finding a decade-old treaty that allowed Native people to reappropriate surplus federal land. Activists decided to occupy the space after the government had closed its prison doors three years prior.
After living on the island for 19 months, activists later left after running out of food and supplies. Since then, the occupation of Alcatraz has become a source of pride for Native social campaigns, including Indigenous People’s Day.
“Indigenous People’s Day is also a remembrance of all that Native people have been through,” said Solis.
Others, like attendee, Trout Black of Marin County, agree that learning about Indigenous people’s history is important.
“I’m 76 years old and I grew up with ‘cowboys and Indians’,” Black said. “I feel like it’s really important for people to understand that the Indigenous people were here before us. I can really understand how they can look at us as being colonizers and the impact that’s had on them.”