(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘KQED’)
On an average day, Alcatraz Island bustles with visitors taking tours of the former federal prison. Twice a year, however, people adorned with colorful feathered headdresses and instruments in hand board the ferry hours before dawn and travel to the historic site in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
On Oct. 9, a crowd of early risers visited Alcatraz on Indigenous Peoples Day to celebrate the history and culture of native peoples.
Before the sunrise broke through the fog, people quietly circled around a fire to honor their ancestors with a sunrise ceremony, commemorating the occupation of Alcatraz Island from November 1969 to June 1971 by “Indians of All Tribes,” a pan-tribal group of Native American leaders and activists.
On that day, 46 years after the original occupation, Alcatraz pulsed with energy once again. The sound of a conch shell initiating the ceremony interrupted the silent morning. As the drumming intensified, indigenous people from across the country danced to sacred songs, moving around their elders who tended to the flames in the center of the crowd.
“I come out here because it’s who I am,” said Desiree Adams, an indigenous woman of Navajo descent. “It’s in my blood to be here and stand for my ancestors and to keep our tradition and culture alive.”
On Nov. 23, another sunrise ceremony will be held for the annual “Unthanksgiving Day” celebration.