Unthanksgiving Day: A yearly celebration of Indigenous resistance to colonialism held at Alcatraz

Annually on the fourth Thursday of November, when many individuals begin to take inventory of the marathon day of cooking forward, Indigenous folks from numerous tribes and nations collect at dawn in San Francisco Bay.

Their gathering is supposed to mark a unique event – the Indigenous Folks’s Thanksgiving Dawn Ceremony, an annual celebration that spotlights 500 years of Native resistance to colonialism in what was dubbed the “New World.” Held on the normal lands of the Ohlone folks, the gathering is a name for remembrance and for future motion for Indigenous folks and their allies.

As a scholar of Indigenous literary and cultural research, I introduce my college students to the lengthy and enduring historical past of Indigenous peoples’ pushback towards settler violence. The origins of this dawn occasion are a very compelling instance that stem from a pivotal second of Indigenous activism: the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island, a 19-month-long takeover that started in 1969.

Reclaiming of Alcatraz Island

On Nov. 20, 1969, led by Indigenous organizers Richard Oakes (Mohawk) and LaNada Conflict Jack (Shoshone Bannock), roughly 100 activists who referred to as themselves “Indians of All Tribes,” or IAT, traveled by constitution boat throughout San Francisco Bay to reclaim the island for Native peoples. A number of teams had completed smaller demonstrations on Alcatraz in earlier years, however this group deliberate to remain, and it maintained its presence there till June 1971.

Earlier than this occupation, Alcatraz Island had served as a army jail after which a federal penitentiary. U.S. Jail Alcatraz was decommissioned in 1963 due to the excessive price of its repairs, and it was basically left deserted. In November 1969, after a hearth destroyed the American Indian Heart in San Francisco, native Indigenous activists have been on the lookout for a brand new place the place city Natives may collect and entry sources, corresponding to authorized help and academic alternatives, and Alcatraz Island match the invoice.

Citing a federal legislation that acknowledged that “unused or retired federal lands might be returned to Native American tribes,” Oakes’ group settled in to reside on “The Rock.” They elected a council and established a college, a medical heart and different needed infrastructure. They even had a pirate radio present referred to as “Radio Free Alcatraz,” hosted by Santee Dakota poet John Trudell.

The IAT did supply – albeit satirically – to buy the island again, proposing within the 1969 proclamation “twenty-four {dollars} (US$24) in glass beads and crimson material, a precedent set by the white man’s buy of an analogous island about 300 years in the past,” referring to the acquisition of Manhattan Island by the Dutch in 1626.

On behalf of IAT, Oakes despatched the next message to the regional workplace San Francisco workplace of the Division of the Inside shortly after they arrived:

“The selection now lies with the leaders of the American authorities – to make use of violence upon us as earlier than to take away us from our Nice Spirit’s land, or to institute an actual change in its coping with the American Indian … We and all different oppressed peoples would welcome spectacle of proof earlier than the world of your title by genocide. Nonetheless, we search peace.”

After 19 months, the occupation in the end succumbed to inside and exterior pressures. Oakes left the island after a household tragedy, and lots of members of the unique group returned to high school, leaving a spot in management. Furthermore, the federal government minimize off water and electrical energy to the island, and a mysterious fireplace destroyed a number of buildings, with the Indigenous occupiers and authorities officers pointing the blame at each other.

By June 1971, President Richard Nixon was able to intervene and ordered federal brokers to take away the few remaining occupiers. The occupation was over, however it helped spark an Indigenous political revitalization that continues immediately. It additionally pushed Nixon to place an official finish to the “termination period,” a legislative effort geared towards ending the federal authorities’s duty to Native nations, as articulated in treaties and formal agreements.

Solidarity at dawn

In 1975, “Unthanksgiving Day” was established to each mark the occupation and advocate for Indigenous self-determination. For a lot of members, Unthanksgiving Day was additionally a reiteration of the unique declaration launched by IAT, which referred to as on the U.S. to acknowledge the impacts of 500 years of genocide towards Indigenous folks.

Nowadays, the occasion is carried out by the Worldwide Indian Treaty Council and is basically known as the Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Dawn Gathering.

Members meet on Pier 33 in San Francisco earlier than daybreak and board boats to Alcatraz Island, bringing Native peoples and allies collectively within the place that symbolizes a key second within the lengthy historical past of Indigenous resistance.

At daybreak, within the courtyard of what was as soon as a federal penitentiary, dawn ceremonies are carried out to “give thanks for our lives, for the beatings of our coronary heart,” mentioned Andrea Carmen, a member of Yaqui Nation and government director of the Worldwide Indian Treaty Council, on the 2018 gathering.

Songs and dances from varied tribal nations are carried out in prayer and as acts of collective solidarity. On the similar gathering, Lakota Harden, who’s a Minnecoujou/ Yankton Lakota and HoChunk group chief and organizer, emphasised that “these voices and the medication in these songs are centuries previous and our ancestors come they usually recognize being acknowledged when the solar comes up.” Via the sharing of music and dance, they enact culturally resonant resistance towards the erasure of Native peoples from these lands.

The Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Dawn Gathering additionally offers folks the prospect to carry higher group consciousness to present struggles dealing with Indigenous folks throughout the globe. These embody the intensifying impacts of local weather change, the widespread violence towards Native ladies, kids and two-spirit people, and ongoing threats to the integrity of their ancestral homelands.

Resistance past The Rock

Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving Dawn Gathering lands close to the tip of Native American Heritage Month, which is devoted to celebrating the huge and numerous Indigenous nations and tribes that exist in the US. Professor Jamie Folsom, who’s Choctaw, describes this month as an opportunity to “current who we’re immediately … (and) to current our points in our personal voices and to inform our personal tales.”

The individuals who will meet on Pier 33 on the fourth Thursday of November proceed this story of Indigenous political motion on the Rock and, by extension, in North America. The greater than 50-year historical past of this gathering is a testomony to the endurance of the unique message from Oakes and Indians of All Tribes. Additionally it is half of a bigger community of resistance actions being led by Native peoples, significantly younger folks.

As Harden says, the following era is asking for change. “They’re standing up and saying we’ve had sufficient. And our future generations will be sure that issues change.”