Colin Kaepernick Attends 50th Anniversary of Alcatraz Occupation

Indigenous leaders honor Standing Rock, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the American Indian Movement

It was a cold and rainy morning in San Francisco, CA when as early as 2:30 am on Nov. 28, 2019, people began lining up at Pier 33. By 4:15 am the first of several boats took 700 people over to Alcatraz Island for the 41st Annual Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz and the American Indian Movement.

By 5:00 am the Sacred Fire was crackling, smoke and hot embers floating up toward the sky as dancers in full regalia endured the bitter temperatures. They danced barefoot around the fire while drummers matched the rhythm of the “Peoples’ heartbeats.”

Speakers from various tribes and nations spoke of unity, liberation, resilience, survival, and the sacredness of ceremony along with the importance of continuing on with these traditions through future generations. They spoke of Indigenous resilience through the ceremony, how powerful that could be and how important it is. They spoke of climate change and protecting the Sacred, the earth, the water and the air. They honored important events and movements such as Standing Rock and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and the American Indian Movement. 

In solidarity, Colin Kaepernick spent what many call “un-thanksgiving” morning on Alcatraz Island listening to the words of the Elders on his way to the microphone. Addressing the crowd, he said, “It’s been 50 years since the occupation and that struggle has continued for that 50 years…It is our responsibility to honor our ancestors and our elders by carrying on that struggle. Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain. That is why it is important for us to be here today. To show that we are together and unified, and we have that solidarity.”

The Occupation of Alcatraz Island by Native American college students, who on November 20, 1969 took back the island of Alcatraz in the name of the Ohlone people and the Indians of All Tribes. They offered to purchase the island from the United States government for $24 in glass beads and red cloth, stating that that was a “precedent set by the white man’s purchase of a similar island about 300 years ago.” The occupation lasted 19 months and is said to have been a catalyst to the Chicano Movement.

As the sun began to rise attendees raised their hands to the sky, welcoming the new day and another chance to make the world a fair and just place for everyone and everything. A chance to set right past wrongs and to heal. Another day to remember and honor the ancestors and to remind the rest of the world that they are still here.

Closing out the ceremonies the Azteca dancers made their way to the Sacred circle. Colorful regalia made of various animals, cloth, feathers, flowers, and beading brightened the morning as the Drums of All Nations began to beat once more. Dotting the ground amongst the dancers were chalices of burning herbs, along with offerings. The scented smoke rose as dancers moved about in unison yet independent of one another, their ayoyotes, worn around the wrists and ankles, replicating the sound of rain. The elders in the inner circle moved slower than the younger dancers, who often employed fancy maneuvers and fast steps. 

When the ceremony ended it was back to the ferry boats. Some people took photos on the walk back, some stopped in the gift-shop filled with literature on the occupation and trinkets set with black and white stripes. As they boarded the Hornblower Freedom, people reminisced about the day’s events and what they meant to them. As the boat gently swayed across the San Francisco Bay toward Pier 33 a participant dropped red flowers into the bay commemorating Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. A final ceremony to round out what turned out to be a beautiful sunny day in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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