A pink, orange and silver sky illuminated the choppy silver and blue waters of San Francisco Bay as 3,500 people gathered Thursday on wind-swept Alcatraz Island for the 32nd annual Sunrise Gathering of Unthanksgiving Day.

For more than three decades, area American Indians and their supporters have gathered on the island at daybreak to honor and pray for the struggle of indigenous people around the world. The event is organized by the International Indian Treaty Council and American Indian Contemporary Arts.

Bill Jimbo Simmons has taken part in the ceremony throughout the decades as a member of the International Indian Treaty Council. He sees it as his responsibility to help protect and remind San Francisco of American-Indian history and tradition and was particularly pleased to see so many young people present.

Ferries carried the first boatload of the sold-out event to the island at around 4:30 a.m., leaving from Pier 41 at Fishermans Wharf in the dark. Tickets were gone in 45 minutes. People snuggled and bundled up against the cold and the mood was simultaneously joyous and somber.

People leave here and they feel empowered, like they can accomplish something in their everyday struggle, Simmons observed as, against a backdrop of beating drums, participants sang and danced their way to the top of the island. Along their way, they lighted traditional copal — tree resin and sage — to cleanse the energy and air.

In between the dancing and singing, people gathered around a ceremonial fire dedicated to peace and listened to guest speakers.

Craig Glassner has worked as a National Park Ranger at Alcatraz Island for 12 years. Glassner is also a member of the U.S. Division of Interpretation and Education and has helped develop the history of American Indians within the museum at Alcatraz. Glassner said events such as the Sunrise Gathering were important not only to American Indians but to all of San Francisco. Its important for people to know about all aspects of the islands history, he said.

But for the native people, the event was a funeral of sorts. Elders from different tribes throughout the United States honored the memories of thousands of American Indians who have died throughout history. Some dedicated tobacco while others honored their memory through traditional song and dance.

Some 100 dancers including Mishka, Teokali, Danzantes and Pomo Indians surrounded the fire in a gigantic circle as their gold, turquoise, purple and silver headdresses moved in what looked like chaotic organization. Decorated with skulls, eagles and alligators, the feathers of their headdresses fluttered around the fire like glittering butterflies at break of dawn. They were accompanied by representatives of indigenous people from as far away as Latin America and Palestine.

Many of the native dancers were family members. Including Irma Tellez and her daughter,

18. Not only do they have the same name but they have danced together at the Sunrise Gathering since the daughter was 5.

Thomas Cordova of the Pomo tribe had 18 members of his family present. He said his family was unthankful that the Army Corps of Engineers had built a reservoir over their land. He said the project benefited rich wineries alone, not his people. Yet, he was happy to be with his family on this day.

Others gave thanks as well, despite the overshadowing sense of loss that is central to the ceremony. Josie Rosas and her cousin, Anna Ortega, were thankful to be in good health. Rosas was finally able to attend the event for the first time in five years since she recovered from an illness.