The Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving Day is a sunrise ceremony celebrated annually on Alcatraz Island. Photograph: Talia Herman for the Guardian

A Thanksgiving bonfire at dawn: celebrating Native American resistance on Alcatraz

While most people are still asleep, thousands gather each year to remember the occupation that helped inspire the modern Native American protest movement

At 4.30am on Thanksgiving morning, the sun had yet to rise over Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. Yet more than 5,000 people were gathered in a hushed circle around a burning pyre, as Native American dancers moved and swayed in the flickering light.

Welcome to the Indigenous People’s Thanksgiving Day, formerly known as Unthanksgiving Day. While most Americans are still asleep, this annual tradition commemorates the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz – famed for its now disused prison – by Native American activists from 1969-1971.

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