Return to Alacatraz


With the prayers, blessings and dances of the Shingle Springs Rancheria Miwok, Pomo, Pitt River and Calpullies, the Alcatraz Sunrise Gathering began, after 3,500 people crossed on boats to Alcatraz Island before first light.

With the scent of sage filling the dawn air, the Ohlone People were honored for their long struggle to recover their traditional homelands here and the Pitt River people for their ongoing efforts to protect the sacred water and land in what is now called northern California.

With a roaring fire in the center, the prayers began at first light. Anna Marie Sayers of the Ohlone people was among the Native women honored.

Radley Davis, Pitt River Nation, asked those gathered to greet the rising sun. "Wherever you are at, turn around and greet the sun. It is still coming, when you see it, say ‘hello.’

"Remember each of you is spirit," Davis said. "Our Creator is a caring Creator, we are all special."

Davis urged everyone gathered to discover who they are and the reason that they have been brought into life, remembering that life is sacred and all is spirit.

"When you see the sun, wash your body, your spirit, wash your life." Davis said, "Ask the Great Maker to help you find out about your life."

The Shellmound walkers, who have been offering prayers at the Shellmounds, asked that others join them in prayer for the ancestors and all Indigenous Peoples. While pointing out the recent oil spill here, they asked to remember the winged-ones, four legged and fishes hurt by the spill. They asked for the cleansing of the San Francisco Bay, while celebrating the survival of Native people.

Bill Means, cofounder of the International Indian Treaty Council, said the gathering on Thursday, Nov. 22, is a continuum in the legacy of the people.

"We consider it relighting the fire of Indian survival, Indian resistance here in this hemisphere. To remind people that first of all, John Wayne didn’t kill us all. That we’re still alive, distinct cultures that are thriving here in America."

Means said the people came today to remember the Hopi imprisoned here at Alcatraz who refused to cut their hair, send their children to US government boarding school or become colonized as US citizens. Nineteen Hopi men from Oraibi returned home to their village in September, 1895, after spending nearly a year imprisoned on Alcatraz Island.

"They brought them here to break their resistance," Means said.

"The only good Indian was a dead Indian."

Means pointed out that the first so-called Thanksgiving was a celebration of the murder of the Mashantucket Pequots who greeted the Europeans who came to this land. Now, however, the people can look for inspiration to Indian people like Richard Oakes, among the leaders of the occupation of Alcatraz.

Oakes, Mohawk, brought this message: "Enough is enough!" Means said there is also inspiration in the new leaders of governments in South America, including Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Means, master of ceremonies at the Indigenous Peoples’ Border Summit of the Americas in San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation in November, also remembered the Indigenous Peoples walking and dying at the border of the United States and Mexico.

"All they want is a drink of water," he said of those walking and dying of dehydration.

Means also remembered Floyd Red Crow Westerman, hospitalized with serious health problems. Means asked that Westerman be remembered in prayers. He said if it is time for Westerman to make the journey, pray for that. But if the Creator wants to leave him here a little longer, Means said that would be good for the people and the struggles that Westerman has spent his life fighting for.

Darrell Standing Elk joined others to lead the AIM Song for Westerman.

Janice Gardipe, Paiute-Shoshone, said there is a great struggle underway to protect Indian homelands from the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Western Shoshone territory.

"Where are our warriors," Gardipe asked, urging American Indians to come and support the struggle to protect the sacred lands.

Munyiga Lumumba, organizer for the All American Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, urged those gathered to reject whatever the capitalist US government and media is telling them. Lumumba urged the crowd to take down the imperialism, including Israel’s action to destroy Palestine. On the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons, he said America has no right, and certainly no moral ground to stand on, to tell the governments of the world what to do.

"The enemy doesn’t lie some of the time, the enemy lies all of the time."

Joining organizer Jimbo Simmons of the International Indian Treaty Council, Tony Gonzales said it was reassuring to know that future generations of Indian people will be assured because of the actions here in the occupation of Alcatraz Island, which began in 1969.

Bringing to a conclusion the ceremony, on the day when others in America celebrate the Thanksgiving of colonizers, Arigon Starr, Kickapoo from Oklahoma, sang the lyrics, "This is Indian land forever," followed by, "We will take the Rock."

BRENDA NORRELL is human rights editor for U.N. OBSERVER & International Report. She also runs the Censored website. She can be reached at: brendanorrell@gmail.com

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