Thousands of people traveled across the San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island for the 32nd annual Sunrise Gathering on Thanksgiving Day.
American Indians and their supporters gathered on the island at daybreak to pray for and honor indigenous people around the world.
“For many of our prayers, for many of our struggles, we come here on Thanksgiving. Today we have over 3,500 people and this morning the tickets were totally sold out,” said Bill "Jimbo" Simmons as he emceed the event. Simmons is a member of the International Indian Treaty Council who helped organize the event along with the help of The American Indian Contemporary Arts.
Simmons said the primary reason for the event was not only to celebrate and honor American Indian history, but also to educate others about it.
"We are here to remind people, remind those that want to destroy our way of life, that we are still here. We are still carrying on our ways. We are still carrying on our traditions,” Simmons said.
Drums immediately followed Simmons speech as the large crowd began their ascent to the top of the island where a ceremonial fire was burning as the crowd approached. The beating intensified as more and more participants joined together in song as they strolled together towards the fire.
Once they reached the fire, they made offerings of tobacco and asked an elder American Indian named “Indian Joe” to perform his rendition of taps on a horn for all his “brothers.”
There was only silence in the darkness as the flames flickered on the faces of the people who gathered into the large circle surrounding the fire.
National Park Ranger Craig Glassner has worked at the Sunrise gathering for the last 12 years. Glassner said there could have been even more people attend the event but they had to limit the amount of people because of the amount of time it took to get them all on and off the island. Glassner said events like the Sunrise Gathering were important not only to American Indians but to all of San Francisco.
More than 100 dancers, including Aztecan, Plains Indian, Teokali and Eagle dancers, paraded around the fire throughout the event well into sunrise.
They were dressed in traditional attire as they danced. The colors, vibrant and energetic exaggerated their dances. As the orange, bronze, leather and turquoise blended together their headresses bounced almost floating in mid air above their heads.
Many of the native dancers were family members. Including Irma Tellez
and her 18-year-old daughter. Not only do they have the same name, but they have
danced together at the Sunrise Gathering since the daughter was 5 years old.
Others came together and gave thanks for what they did have, including Josie Rosas and her cousin Anna Ortega who said they were thankful to be in good health. Rosas was finally able to attend the event again for the first time in five years since recovering from an illness.