IITC 2020 Sunrise Gatherings Affirmed Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance, Solidarity, and Survival During COVID-19

Alcatraz Island, November 25th, 2020

Alcatraz Island, November 25th, 2020, photo by Chris Honahnie


December 2, 2020, San Francisco CA:  For over 40 years the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) has organized two annual sunrise gatherings on Alcatraz Island commemorating Indigenous Peoples Day in October and Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving in November.  These gatherings are intended to uphold Truth in History, and to remember and honor our centuries of ongoing resistance to genocide.  They offer thanks for our cultural resiliency and survival, as well as commemorate the original occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969 which sparked the national and international Indigenous Peoples movement.  In recent years, the sunrise gatherings have brought together at total of close to 6000 participants on the island, with thousands more joining in through KPFA’s “Radio Free Alcatraz” broadcasts.

In 2020, the events took place, but in a different way due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has had a devastating impact on Indigenous Nations, Peoples, communities and families in the United States and throughout the hemisphere.   IITC felt that it was still important, maybe more important than ever, to gather and offer prayers of mutual support, comfort and healing. However, to comply with the City of San Francisco and National Parks Service restrictions on the size of gatherings, and to keep our elders and community members safe, IITC’s Indigenous Peoples Day gathering on October 12th and Indigenous Peoples Thanksgiving gathering on November 25th were kept small. Most participants were invited to attend virtually.  Each event was limited to 50-100 dancers, presenters, firekeepers, sacred staff carriers, radio and sound technicians, volunteers and program staff.   Elders and other presenters not able to attend in-person sent pre-recorded presentations, which were played during the gatherings.

Both events included an Ohlone welcome, California and Mexica Indigenous dancers, drummers, musicians, and speakers offering prayers and words of wisdom.  In addition to addressing the impacts of COVID-19 in their communities, presenters highlighted human rights issues impacting Indigenous Peoples in California, throughout the US and the world.  These included protection of sacred sites, justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the climate crisis, criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders, and militarization at the US/Mexico border.

Both the October 12 and November 25 events were broadcast by long-time partner KPFA, and are now available in KPFA’s Archives (note the Thanksgiving program aired on November 26).  For the first time, the November gathering was also broadcast live through Black Zebra Productions’ Facebook livestream.

The IITC leadership extends special thanks to IITC Community Liaison Morning Star Gali who co-coordinated the gatherings with IITC’s Environmental Health Coordinator Rochelle Diver, and served as MC for both events, as well the other IITC staff who assisted at the gatherings.   We also thank the speakers and cultural presenters, some who have participated for many years, including the Round Valley Pomo Singers and Dancers, the Kumeyaay Bird Singers and Dancers, All Nations Drum and the Teocalli Mexica/Aztec dancers.  This year we also want to recognize with appreciation the Know Your Rights Camp, founded by Human Rights and Racial Justice defender (and former 49’s quarterback) Colin Kaepernick for providing food for the participants after the November gathering, as well as the American Indian Cultural District and American Indian Cultural Center for their co-sponsorship.

We will continue to send prayers of support and healing to the families whose loved ones have passed on and all those who are struggling to recover from this illness.  IITC will also continue to address the human rights impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples.   IITC’s Executive Director Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, encouraged everyone present to continue strengthening our shared commitment to support one another during this very challenging time at the closing of her welcome statement at the November sunrise gathering.  She said “Let’s stay together in this sacred circle with same the spirit of unity and solidarity that we feel this morning as we move past today, because together we will stay strong”.

Click here for more info about: IITC, the Thanksgiving gathering, and to download the recent IITC Covid Report addressing impacts on North America Indigenous Peoples, or visit www.iitc.org.  For more information on IITC’s annual sunrise gatherings, contact Morning Star Gali, [email protected], Rochelle Diver, [email protected] or [email protected].   


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