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Alcatraz Sunrise

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Palestinian folk dancers offered prayer and dance
Photo Brenda Norrell

On Alcatraz, American Indians and Palestinians Offer Thanks

By Brenda Norrell

U.N. OBSERVER & International Report


ALCATRAZ ISLAND, Calif. -- Before the first light of dawn, Indigenous Peoples from the Americas, in solidarity with Palestinians, African Americans and others struggling against oppression, climbed the hill once again to offer prayers at sunrise on Alcatraz Island.

With the first streaks of dawn, the Dry Creek Pomo Traditional Dancers greeted the day, as about 3,000 people gathered to remember those who have passed on in the struggle for Indigenous rights and called for solidarity in resistance against colonialism and injustice.

“The strongest prayers are given to the morning star at this time of day”, said Bill Means, co-founder of the International Indian Treaty Council. IITC and American Indian Contemporary Arts hosted the 32nd annual Alcatraz island Sunrise Gathering.

Means asked for prayers for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is now being considered by the United Nations. Pointing out that the Declaration is the result of 22 years of efforts, Means said there are 400 million Indigenous Peoples around the world and 100 million live in this hemisphere.

“It is now before the United Nations. This is the minimal standard for human rights”, Means said. “Some of the purest resources and water are on our land.”

Means began by remembering the nineteen Moqui Hopi who were taken from their homes on the mesas of Arizona and imprisoned at Alcatraz in 1895 for refusing to send their children to government boarding schools.

“We thank each and every one of you for helping turn a prison into a sacred site”, he told those gathered.

Stressing the importance of human rights for the original peoples living along the world’s borders, Means pointed out that Indigenous Peoples and Palestinians both live with imposed borders.

Means introduced the Palestinian performers, Al-Juthoor (The Roots) Arabic Folkloric Dancers.

“We are here to show solidarity with our Indigenous Peoples”, said Wael, Palestinian member of the group.

Munyiga Lumumba of the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party attracted high praise from the crowd when he said, “We are fighting against the common devil – George Bush.”

Lumumba thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his recent words.

“He said it so elegantly, ‘Bush is the Devil!”

“Bush is not our president,” Lumumba told the crowd.

Welcoming Chavez to return, Lumumba said New York does not belong to George Bush; New York belongs to the Iroquois and other Indigenous Peoples.

Lumumba said Chavez, too, has Indigenous blood, while Bush represents the colonialism of the system oppressing the people for the past 500 years.

People around the world are now marching in solidarity with Indian people, he said. Praising the inspiration of the virtue of patience shown by Indian people, Lumumba said, “Patience is a virtue of a revolution.

“We want to express our gratitude for all Indigenous Peoples.”

Means, remembering those who have given their lives in the struggle for Indian rights, said, “This struggle does not come without a cost.”

Among the speakers was one from Ireland who called for justice for Leonard Peltier. Another urged prayer and support for the ongoing struggle for human rights in Oaxaca, Mexico. In Spanish and English, the song,

“Walking Toward the Sun”, was offered for the resistance movement in Oaxaca, Chiapas and throughout the Americas. The Traditional Azteca Danzantes offered a powerful dance tribute.

Means remembered Richard Oakes, leader of the occupation of Alcatraz in November of 1969; Ingrid Washinawatok, IITC member killed in Colombia and Mickey Gimmell, of the Pit River and Wintu Nations and IITC board member, and a long list of others, beginning with Mad Bear Anderson, who spent their lives in service and sacrifice.

Jimbo Simmons, Choctaw, member of the staff of the International Indian Treaty Council in San Francisco, said the sunrise prayer service on Alcatraz Island was revived in 1974, after the Lakota stand at Wounded Knee, S.D., and is now held annually.

Simmons said the National Park Service on Alcatraz Island has recognized the stand taken here by Indians of All Tribes and the outcome. On the National Park Service website, there is a tribute to “We hold the Rock.”

“The success or failure of the occupation should not be judged by whether the demands of the occupiers were realized. The underlying goals of the Indians on Alcatraz were to awaken the American public to the reality of the plight of the first Americans and to assert the need for Indian self-determination. As a result of the occupation, either directly or indirectly, the official government policy of termination of Indian tribes was ended and a policy of Indian self-determination became the official U.S. government policy.

“During the period the occupiers were on Alcatraz Island, President Nixon returned Blue Lake and 48,000 acres of land to the Taos Indians. Occupied lands near Davis, California, would become home to a Native American university. The occupation of Bureau of Indian Affairs offices in Washington, D.C. would lead to the hiring of Native American's to work in the federal agency that had such a great effect on their lives.

“Alcatraz may have been lost, but the occupation gave birth to a political movement which continues to today.”

On this day, while Americans were celebrating Thanksgiving, American Indians and those in solidarity with them, rose at 2 or 3 a.m., and crossed the bay on ferryboats beginning at 4:30 a.m. The thousands who came received the gift of blessings and the beauty of the sunrise, joined by a chorus of seagulls. Following the ceremony, the Oakland Intertribal Indian Center served turkey and all the trimmings.

The International Indian Treaty Council said Alcatraz, “The ROCK,” is a symbol of resistance and self-determination for Indigenous Peoples of North America since the take-over of Alcatraz Island in November 1969 by Indian youths and students, led by San Francisco State University activist Richard Oakes. Mickey Gemmill, John White Fox, Lenny Foster and many others were with Oakes.

“Alcatraz continues to call us back for spiritual and revolutionary inspiration and to pray for unity and strength among Native American communities, our friends and supporters”, IITC said.

“This year is a special commemoration and tribute to our good friend, brother in struggle, land and fishing rights leader, member of Pitt River and Wintu Nations of Northern California, IITC Board of Directors member and former Tribal Chairman Mickey Gimmell.

“He will be missed but not forgotten. A more recent passing is that of John White Fox, a student, activist, photographer, and veteran of Wounded Knee, Alcatraz and the Longest Walk. His spirit and courage will be long remembered.”

The International Indian Treaty Council said this day, the last Thursday in November, was a day to remember truth, but not pitiful alien pilgrims.

“The 2006 gathering at Alcatraz Island brings us all back to what America talks about during this time each year when immigrant, undocumented, pitiful, illegal alien pilgrims and Indians sat down together in peace to praise another season of Thanksgiving. Nothing can be further from the truth.”

Brenda Norrell
U.N. OBSERVER & International Report

Please continue for a photo of Aztec Dancers at Alcatraz and then,

Please also see:

Thanksgiving Day 2006

International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Contemporary Arts
Presents the 32nd Annual Alcatraz Island Sunrise Gathering
“American Indian Thanksgiving Day” November 23rd, 2006


International Indian Treaty Council (IITC)

American Indian Movement

Indigenous Peoples Literature

'My Life Is My Sun Dance': Prison Writings of LEONARD PELTIER

Photos of The Longest Walk, 1978

Elisa Burchett asks,
‘Will African Group Proposal Derail Entire Indigenous Declaration Process?’


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