At Alcatraz Island’s Thanksgiving Day, the native spirit lives on

By Eliza Strickland, East Bay Express

Do you know where you’ll be at 6:59 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, as the sun rises over the eastern hills and paints the bay pink? Sure, you could be in bed, visions of turkey and stuffing dancing through your head. But if you crave spiritual nourishment to start the day, join like-minded folks for the Sunrise Gathering on Alcatraz Island, organized by the International Indian Treaty Council. It’s both a rallying point for Indians of the Bay Area and beyond, and a moment when others can express their solidarity with native people. “It’s a gathering to offer thanks, in our way, for the survival of our indigenous nations on this hemisphere in the face of genocide,” says Andrea Carmen, the treaty council’s executive director. The morning’s events include dances by both California Pomo Indians and Aztecs, and a prayer to the rising sun as the first rays hit the island.

Brave souls have been congregating at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco for the early morning boat trip for over thirty years now. In its earlier years, the event was called Unthanksgiving Day and had a more confrontational tenor. It was an explicit rebuttal, Carmen says, to the grade-school construction-paper picture of Pilgrims and Indians sitting down together and happily swapping maize recipes. “That’s not what happened, and we know it,” she says. Over time, the organizers have adopted a more positive tone. “The message of Unthanksgiving doesn’t convey the true feeling of indigenous people,” Carmen says, “which is to give thanks every day for our survival, and the survival of the natural world, and the courage of our ancestors who fought and struggled and resisted to keep our culture alive for us.

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