“Forever on Thanksgiving Day the heart will find the pathway home.”
Wilbur D. Nesbit
A decidedly different Unthanksgiving Day is held every Thanksgiving on Alcatraz.
The purpose of this event is to honor Native Americans and promote their rights. It also commemorates when a group of Native American students and other supporters took over and occupied Alcatraz Island in November 1969. These protesters claimed the land according to the Treaty of Fort Laramie, also known as the Sioux Treaty of 1868. Even though these protesters were forced from Alcatraz nineteen months later by the U.S. government, the reason for their occupation was acknowledged, and the first Unthanksgiving Day was held four years later on November 27, 1975. During the protesters’ sojourn on Alcatraz, support from other indigenous people grew and the civil rights movement coincided to lend support as well. Unthanksgiving Day was then established to honor Native American ancestors and veterans of the Alcatraz occupations.
The organizers chose the fourth Thursday of November intentionally.
While most people in the U.S. celebrate Thanksgiving, Native Americans want to remind Americans about the losses that they suffered because of the arrival of Europeans. The ceremony at Alcatraz is organized by the International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Contemporary Arts and is open to the public. Before sunrise, several thousand native Americans and spectators meet and dance to honor their ancestors. They also demonstrate other aspects of their cultures and heritage and speak out for the rights of their people. A similar, though unaffiliated annual day of protest known as the National Day of Mourning is held in Massachusetts on the same day.
This celebration is not to be confused with the celebration known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Day that takes place on the second Monday in October, and has replaced Columbus Day in many states, like Alaska, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Virginia, and municipalities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and Flagstaff. Also celebrated on Alcatraz, Indigenous Peoples Day was first held October 11, 1992, and stemmed from protests against celebrating the “Quincentennial Jubilee” of Columbus’ discovery of America. These protests were initiated by the Bay Area Indian Alliance, and the “Resistance 500” task Force. Both the Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Unthanksgiving Day celebrations represent important traditions in our area, and offer a different perspective to the mainstream Thanksgiving narrative.