By Julian Brave NoiseCat The Nation
riving down international boulevard, East Oakland’s main inner-city thoroughfare, it’s hard to miss the Intertribal Friendship House. With its mural-rimmed courtyard featuring larger-than-life portraits of Natives, both famous and unknown, the community center, which some call the “urban rez,” stands apart from its surroundings in Oakland’s Little Saigon. And like pretty much everything involving Indigenous Americans, it’s been here a while.
Founded in 1955, the Intertribal Friendship House is one of the oldest urban Indigenous community organizations in the United States. You’d think that in a city and region that gave birth to the Black Panther Party, the Free Speech Movement, and the United Farmworkers, people would know about institutions like this. The Oakland-born Cheyenne and Arapaho writer Tommy Orange, after all, set a whole chapter of his novel There There, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, at an Indian center no doubt inspired by Intertribal. But I can’t tell you how many Oaklanders I’ve met who are shocked to learn that their city has one of the oldest and most significant urban Indian populations in the United States, that there’s a whole Native community center just a few blocks from the city’s downtown, and that the 19-month occupation of Alcatraz, which began in 1969—more or less the Indigenous rights movement’s equivalent of the Montgomery bus boycott—was organized in Oakland and the Bay Area.