The Rock at Sunrise- Blog for Human Rights Day


I recently visited Alcatraz for the first time. Notorious for its grim past, it is one of the most visited tourist attractions of the Bay and perhaps the country. But instead of a traditional tour of the island led by voice recording—ceremonial singing, traditional dances and astounding speakers guided me. My first time on Alcatraz, was also my first sunrise ceremony.

As the ferry approached the island, I caught glimpses of the cells where inmates were once isolated. Walking uphill, I saw the apartments where correctional officers and their families lived. And at the top, where the sunrise ceremony took place, I witnessed powerful performances and respectfully observed as we remembered those who occupied in resistance for American Indian rights in1969.

My visit on this eerie, yet beautiful island of contradictions opened my eyes to Indian American activism and the fight for human rights that began long before the penitentiary on Alcatraz even existed. Initially, being on that island led me to question just how much we have progressed since the closing of Alcatraz. The fight for prisoners rights and rehabilitation not incarceration is in full effect and the high costs of incarceration that caused Alcatraz to officially close still plague the country today. That morning on Alcatraz, was not only a collective celebration of the rights of indigenous people, but of human rights in our country.

This human rights day I would like to celebrate civil disobedience and shy away from glorifying the criminal history the island offers. Today, let’s celebrate the bravery of the American Indians that occupied Alcatraz, and not the notoriety of the inmates detained there year after year…after year.

Let’s celebrate the actions of the students, couples and even children who brought attention to American Indian rights and sparked a wave of activism that reverberates throughout communities of color today.