Over 3500 People Attend Indigenous Peoples Annual Sunrise Gathering

800_madonna_thunderhawk_1by Dan Bacher / IndyBay

Tendrils of smoke from the fire drifted up into the air in the pre-dawn darkness as tribal drums beat and Yaqui Indians conducted the Deer Dance while thousands gathered for the ceremony on the island near the abandoned buildings of the former military prison and federal penitentiary.

Over 3500 people attended the Indigenous Peoples Annual Sunrise Gathering at Alcatraz Island sponsored by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) on November 28, 2013. This was the 44th year that the event was held to commemorate the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz from 1969 to 1971.

The event featured Yaqui Deer Dancers, the Round Valley Reservation Pomo Dancers and Aztec Dancers, according to Morning Star Gali, one of the event organizers and the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Pit River Tribe. Speakers included LaNada War Jack, one of the original Alcatraz occupiers, Ann Marie Sayers from the Ohlone Indian Tribe, Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council, Madonna Thunder Hawk, Two Kettle Lakota and one of the original members of the American Indian Movement, and Radley Davis and Mickey Gimmel of the Pit River Tribe.

“I’ve been attending the Alcatraz Sunrise gathering since I was a child,” said Gali. “For the past 5 years I have helped with the organizing.”

“It’s a beautiful gathering to bring people together to stand in prayer, and to be reminded of the struggles that took place for us to be here today. Alcatraz is known as the catalyst of the indigenous occupations, The spark that lit the fire as LaNada says,” she explained.

Gali noted that the huge turn out for the gathering was evidenced by the large lines of people waiting in the pre-dawn darkness for the boats transporting people from Fisherman’s Wharf to the island. She said that one reason for the big turn out could have been the cancellation of the October Indigenous People’s Day Gathering at the island this year, due to the federal shutdown of Alcatraz, now a National Park.

Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Treaty Council, explained the real history of the day.

“As we gather today to celebrate, we do not celebrate the re-write of history that has become Thanksgiving,” said Carmen. “We celebrate our survival as indigenous people. In reality, on this day so long ago, 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Nation were slaughtered during their sacred Green Corn ceremonies by Pilgrims they had saved during the winter months with their own food.”

“I want to thank the many heroes and young people—who are now parents and grandparents—who had the courage to occupy this island. We honor you. That action you participated in took us all the way to the United Nations where we finally got the recognition of our rights and treaties. I want our young children to realize what a great part of history you are now participating in. We are here to dedicate our lives to this traditional Native way of life,” she said.

“I come here this year for all those original occupiers who cannot get here,” stated Madonna Thunder Hawk, Two Kettle Lakota and one of the original members of the American Indian Movement. “Many have passed on to the spirit world, or are elders and cannot make it.”

“At the time I was asked to come to Alcatraz, we were occupying Mt. Rushmore. A year after the original occupation of Alcatraz, only 150 were left on the island, and they needed others to come and help. It was the first time I really understood the word ‘freedom.’ We had to take care of ourselves completely, with no outside help at all. I have been in the struggle ever since,” she explained.

Lenny Foster, of the Diné Nation and the Director of the Navajo Nation Corrections Project, urged the thousands gathered to support the release of political prisoner Leonard Peltier from federal prison in Florida.

“The birds are happy today, they are happy, and I ask you all to pray for Leonard Peltier, so he can be released and enjoy his many relatives that love him and miss him,” said “We have been and are mounting a vigorous campaign for his release, and ask you all for your prayers and continuing support.”

For more information, go to: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/97607 and http://nativenewsonline.net/currents/indigenous-peoples-thanksgiving-sunrise-ceremony-alcatraz-island/

The ceremony took place as indigenous struggles against corporate water grabs, fracking, deforestation and the destruction of the planet are heating up across the world. These struggles include the Eslipogtog First Nation’s resistance to fracking in New Brunswick, Canada, the Guarani-Kaiowá Tribes’ battle to stop the deforestation of the rainforest and the destruction of native communities in Brazil, native protests against the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and Canada, the Idle No More movement throughout Canada and the Sami people’s protests against mining in Scandinavia.

In California and Oregon, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe is fighting Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build the peripheral tunnels and the Obama administration’s plan to raise Shasta Dam, the Yurok, Karuk, Klamath, Hoopa Valley and other tribes are waging a campaign to remove four dams on the Klamath River and the Pit River Tribe and environmental groups are resisting geothermal development and “fracking” at the Medicine Lake Highlands, a remote and pristine volcanic area 30 miles east of Mount Shasta, California. Members of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation and their allies in northeast Oregon are also resisting the Omega Morgan “mega load” of oil refinery equipment bound for the tar sands oil region of western Canada.

“The struggle to protect Medicine Lake is the same struggle against cultural genocide that we are fighting here in California to protect our sacred places,” said Morning Star Gali. “It is the same struggle to protect Rattlesnake Island, the San Francisco Peaks, Mauna Kea and Bear Butte. Just as we are battling BLM backing Calpine Corporation against desecration of Medicine Lake, Indigenous peoples in Arizona are fighting the USFS, holding a financial interest to further develop the Snowbowl Ski Resort.”

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