Photo Gallery: Friendship House Gala Celebrates 50 Years of Helping American Indians Heal
Over 400 people, from Native tribes all over the United States and beyond, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friendship House Association of American Indians in the elegant Grand Ballroom of San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel on Saturday, October 19.
The gala fundraising event, honoring the organization and its director Helen Waukazoo, was emceed by Hollywood actor Benjamin Bratt and Native community leader Tom Phillips (Kiowa/Muscogee). Other speakers included California senator Mark Leno, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and alumni of Friendship House's drug and alcohol treatment program. Guests were also treated to singing and dancing by top Native performers.
The San Francisco-based Friendship House is one of the nation’s oldest and largest American Indian-owned and -operated non-profit organizations dedicated to helping Native families heal from drug and alcohol addiction. Started as a church-sponsored program to aid urban Indians who arrived in the Bay Area after government relocation from reservations, it has became, under Waukazoo's leadership, a successful organization with a staff of 60 whose treatment model incorporates traditional healing and wisdom.
For many, Friendship House has also been a home away from home.
“This is a significant event for me,” said emcee Tom Phillips (Kiowa/Muscogee), who joined Friendship House in its early days. The organization, he said, has always been “a welcoming place for all of our Indian people who were away from family, away from all the traditional ceremonies, the holidays and the birthdays. It was a place to connect and just be with Indian people, a place to gather.”
Actor Benjamin Bratt discovered Friendship House as a young teenager. Bratt, of Peruvian Quechua descent, has since had feature roles in the television series Law and Order, as well as several movies, including La Mission and the Lesser Blessed.
“I'm here to celebrate the dedication and hard work of many individuals,” he told ICTMN, “but not least Helen Waukazoo, someone I'm in the habit of calling Mom. The Friendship house has always been there for me and my family, and is an important part of the community I grew up in.”
During the event, laughter, song, dance and, gratitude filled the spacious ballroom as people spoke about what Friendship House had meant to the San Francisco Bay Area Native Community, and to their lives.
“I want to share with you a question that an elder has asked me when I was in recovery,” said alumni Martin Mejia.” He asked me why do I feel I was put on this earth. I told him my goal wasn't to live forever, but to create something that will. I want to say thank you to the Friendship House for saving my life."
Waukazoo was given a lifetime achievement award by former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who noted that both Native people and African-Americans had to learn to "walk in two worlds."
“It has not been without obstacles,” Waukazoo said. “But to get appreciation from people that are in recovery really makes my day. What else could I do? What else do I want to do in life, when I see the children get their Mom and Dad back, when families get back together, how different their lives are now because of the healing that took place.”
“I didn't do this by myself,” she added, “ there are so many people that came into my life, that helped me out."
Britta Guerrero, CEO of Sacramento Native American Health Center and Margie Mejia, Chairperson of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, received leadership awards from Friendship House's board of directors chair, Abby Abinanti.
The fundraising event, which cost $250 per seat, was sponsored by the Lytton Rancheria, with additional sponsorship by the Native American Health Center, Jackson Rancheria, The San Francisco Foundation, and others.
It included a silent auction of Native artists, as well as the talent shown by the singers and dancers. Former Miss Navajo Radmilla Cody (Navajo/African American) spoke of her own life as a survivor of domestic violence as she thanked Friendship house in word and song, and NAMMY award winning Tuscarora singer Pura Fe entranced the audience with her acapella singing. Friendship House's alumni Hoopa Dancers performed a prayer dance, and Eddie Madril, with his brother Marcos, dazzled the guests with traditional dancing, including a hoop dance.
Madril in his videos has spoken of how the hoop dance “illustrates the process of changing your perspective and being able to build with something.”
A fitting tribute to an organization that has helped thousands of individuals. Happy Anniversary Friendship House.