Nearly five decades removed from the daring Indigenous occupation that held it for 19 months, Alcatraz island continues to be a symbol of resistance.
Each year on Thanksgiving morning as the sun rises over the hard, cold Rock, we are reminded of that legacy. And given the current political climate, it is more important than ever that we remember and honor that resistance.
Americans have made a holiday tradition of feasting with their families and “giving thanks for what they have” before going out the following day and spending money (they often don’t have) on material things they don’t need. Whether deliberately or not, most Americans ignore the fact that Thanksgiving is rooted in genocide, oppression and the seizing of land from the original inhabitants of this continent.
The descendents of those original inhabitants are still here though, and they have created their own tradition on “Thanksgiving”: gathering on Alcatraz at sunrise every year, to celebrate their ancestors and their resistance in the continued face of oppression.
Last year on Thanksgiving, an estimated 15,000 people representing 748 tribal nations from across the world descended on the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, hoping to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. These “water protectors” were met with riot police, tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons (in sub-freezing temperatures), all for wanting to protect their people’s access to clean drinking water. Despite heavy outcry, the pipeline was approved by President Trump almost immediately upon taking office via an executive order. That order also approved the Keystone XL Pipeline, which just spilt 210,000 gallons of oil a few weeks ago.
One of the demonstrators present last year at Standing Rock was Indigenous civil rights leader Dennis Banks, who died on Oct. 28, 2017. The 80-year-old activist, who founded the American Indian Movement (AIM), helped to orchestrate a six-day takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and occupied the Town of Wounded Knee for 71 days. Standing Rock was one of Banks’ final fights.
AIM spiritual advisor Fred Short (who once served as Banks’ bodyguard) was also present at this year’s Sunrise Ceremony at Alcatraz. He used the occasion to gift his sacred ceremonial eagle feathers (which he has had and sun danced with for 39 years) to Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback whose peaceful protest of kneeling during the National Anthem before football games set off a cultural firestorm and has drew the ire of the president.
“It’s really an honor to give these to you,” Short told Kaepernick, who was wearing a shirt with the image of Sitting Bull.
“I realize that our fight is the same fight,” Kaepernick told the crowd. “We’re all fighting for our justice, for our freedom, and realizing that we’re in this fight together, it makes us all the more powerful.”
It’s an important truth that we should all do well to remember as we enter into the second year of the Trump regime. If the past year has taught us anything it’s that we can’t count on our elected officials to save us. From the Women’s March to the Muslim travel ban protests at airports, to the Boston White Nationalist demonstration where participants were outnumbered literally 1000:1 by counter-demonstrators—all of the successes of the past year have shown that our true strength is in numbers.
Story by: Staff