It was still dark during the early hours of Thanksgiving Day when Natalia Cooper arrived at Pier 33. The Oakland teacher wasn’t alone. Several hundred people, coming from all parts of the Bay Area, waited at the pier to depart to Alcatraz for the annual Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony.

With a ferry ticket in her hands, and bottles of hot chocolate and tea stowed in her backpack, Cooper, originally from Massachusetts, was very excited to attend the gathering for the third time.

“I respect the history and I’ve attended different indigenous ceremonies in my home state,” said Cooper as she took the ferry to Alcatraz at dawn. “I feel this is such a good way to start Thanksgiving.”

Three boats filled to capacity took crowds from San Francisco to the island every 15 minutes from 4:45 a.m. to 6 a.m., transporting a total of 1,900-people.
“This event always brings a lot of people,” said a member of the Alcatraz Cruises staff. “But we are expecting more this year, because of the ‘good weather’.”

At 6 a.m. on the island the thermometers were showing 54 degrees.

The ceremony started with sacred dances, songs and rituals, remembering the “many heroes of the indigenous people along the history that have helped to have our rights recognized and have helped build our legacy,” as one of the organizers stated over a loudspeaker during the ceremony.

The participants honored the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz of 1969, when Native Americans took over the island and fought for land rights and against the government’s treatment of their people.

“Indians of all tribes” — the name of the early landing party who occupied Alcatraz and nowadays a metaphor for all supporters — were united at the event.

Regina Camargo, who has lived in the United States for 27 years, considers herself an activist of all minorities causes.

“I’m an immigrant and I think it’s important we all support each other,” Camargo said. Although she has been to different indigenous ceremonies — in Palo Alto and Stanford — it was her first time on Alcatraz.

Helena Moran, from the state of Nayarit in Mexico, was thankful to have her 13-year-old daughter invited to dance at the ceremony.

“We feel all together,” Moran said. “I’m Mexican, but you’ll see people from everywhere.”

With the sun up, the spectrum of San Francisco was calling the participants back to town. The last boat left Alcatraz at 8:45 a.m. back to Pier 33, but the spirit of resistance remains on the island where the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony will take place again next year.