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Native American center in jeopardy

Ilka Hartmann

Unpaid taxes threaten to close the Intertribal Friendship House (IFH), the oldest surviving American Indian urban community center in America. Native Americans in the organization and at Mills are working to keep the house intact.

IFH must pay $30,000 in back city taxes by March 23, or Alameda County will seize the property and auction it.

Because the IFH is separated into three parcels-the main house, the dining room, and the middle property-Alameda County taxes all three properties. Yet it functions as one non-profit organization.

“Some of the past leaders didn’t know to file Welfare Exempt paperwork since IFH is non-profit. We are now filing the paperwork for future years, but Alameda County is demanding money for past years,” said Mills sophomore Morning Star Gali, a Native American woman who actively campaigns and fundraises for the house.

Some allied with the house believe that the pressure to pay the back taxes stem from a desire to buy the land, which is worth $6 million and is located in the thriving redevelopment area around Lake Merritt.

“During relocation we were pushed off our reservation lands and into the urban cities because the U.S. [government] wanted us to assimilate,” said Gali. “Now the city of Oakland is trying to close the doors on our center because it is of no value to them.”
For many Native American people, the house’s history is enough value.

“I have been going there since I was a baby, and now I take my daughter, so I want to keep the doors open,” said Gali.

Begun 50 years ago, the house was the first Native American organization of its kind in the Bay Area, spinning off other movements and agencies like the American Indian Movement survival school. It serves as a resource center for Native Americans in the Oakland area so that older generations can pass on traditions and ceremonies to the tribal youth living in western society.

Gali and other Native American rights activists are doing all they can to help the IFH raise the $15,000 they still need to pay off Alameda County and keep their space.

IFH supporters have held two community fundraisers that included music, games and discussions and held many fundraiser planning meetings.

They have three more Fundraiser events planned for March 15, 16 and the 17, but they have yet to decide what the events will be.

According to Gali, House members plan to raise all of the money by the deadline.

Mills’ own Native American Sisterhood Alliance member Leah Herrera said they have already shown their support by going to a fundraising event.

“This is a sacred site for Native Americans. Just like churches are seen as sacred, this is sacred space that we need to hold onto to practice our traditions,” said Gali.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and councilmember Patricia Kernighan’s offices support the IFH, trying to pass a retroactive Welfare Exemption, which would delay the auction. Because the IFH did not postpone the payment or waive the back tax fees, the exemption may not come in time for their March 23 deadline.

IFH current board members hope that both council Kernighan’s offices and Mayor Ron Dellums follow through with their efforts, according to their Intertribal Friendship House Recovery Plan.

Gali urges the Mills community to contribute to the financial need to keep IFH open, not only for Native students in Oakland now but for future generations as well.

Contributors can make tax-deductible donations to account IFH account # 0160004867 in Community Bank of the Bay, or send a check directly to Intertribal Friendship House at 523 International Blvd, Oakland, CA, 94606.

More information is available at