Navajos help save Friendship House

By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi' Bureau, Navajo Times, FEBRUARY 14, 2008

CHINLE - Navajo relocatees and their children were "definitely" a factor in saving the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, Calif., last year, IFH spokesman George Galvis said in a recent telephone interview.

The first of many "Indian centers" as a meeting place for urban relocatees, Friendship House was on the county auction block last spring after the staff discovered - only after some developers expressed interest in buying it - that it owed $30,000 in back taxes.

The staff mobilized quickly and was able to raise the money and get the center out of hock.

"There were several Diné involved in the effort, along with many other tribes," Galvis said. "It was a combination of people who remembered the center from their days in the relocation program, and local community members."

The Flagstaff-based German/Navajo band Blackfire traveled to Oakland to be a part of a fundraising concert, and some Navajos sent checks when they heard the center could be closing.

Friendship House was established in 1955, three years after the federal Indian Urban Relocation Program went national, and it rapidly became what Galvis calls an "urban reservation" for Bay Area relocatees.

Over the years, it hosted dances, powwows, beading classes, socials and ceremonies.

In the late 1960s, the building became an organizing center for Native activists. The occupation of Alcatraz was headquartered there, along with the first Longest Walk and the "AIM for Freedom" survival school operated by the American Indian Movement.

In more recent years, Friendship House has served as a place where Natives can keep their culture alive, learning traditional dances and crafts.

A year after the center was saved from closure, Galvis said its challenge is to be as relevant to the present generation of Bay Area Natives as it was to the urban pioneers of years past.

The tribal representatives met there while the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing their case opposing the use of reclaimed wastewater for snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks last fall, Galvis said.

"Another thing I think would be of interest to Diné is that we're planning to use the center to start preserving some of our tribal languages that are being lost," he added. "The Diné language is one of the ones on our list to be taught here, since there's a substantial pool of Native speakers we can draw from in the area."

The IFH is also striving to become more financially independent so it won't end up on the auction block again.





Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.