Unthanksgiving: Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony Honors Resistance Over Revisionism

By Sameer Rao Nov 21, 2018

The popular mythology of Thanksgiving, which the United States celebrates tomorrow (November 22), Whitewashes the Wampanoag people’s bravery and ignores their descendants’ ongoing fight against cultural genocide. Many Indigenous people opt out of this historical erasure by traveling to Alcatraz Island for the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony on Thanksgiving. 

rntThe San Francisco Chronicle reports that the event, known to some as "Unthanksgiving Day," commemorates a pivotal event in 20th century Indigenous activism: the occupation of the former penal island by Richard Oakes and a coalition of Indigenous activists from November 1969 to June 1971. The action, whose participants operated under the banner Indians of All Tribes, took place at a time of heightened Native American activism via the American Indian Movement, whose leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means also participated in the occupation. Dr. Dean Chavers wrote for Indian Country Today that this takeover led to major policy wins for Native Americans.

San Francisco media outlet KALW notes that the ceremony includes speeches, rituals and honorific dances that pay tribute to the occupiers and recognize the oppression Indigenous tribes have faced. It has been held on the island, which was originally inhabited by the ancestors of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, since 1975.

According to a Facebook event listing from co-organizer International Indian Treaty Council, those who cannot attend may participate in the proceedings via local radio station 94.1 KPFA and its website.

In the meantime, watch this video from the 2010 ceremony:

The Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony is not the only Indigenous event marking the trauma of genocide on Thanksgiving. The United American Indians of New England will host the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts—the site of the original Thanksgiving.