OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA — The Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland, California hosted the American Indian Education Center Graduation for junior high school and high school students enrolled with the Title IX Office of Indian Education after school enrichment program in early June. These important after school programs are provided by the American Indian Child Resource Center staff and Mary Trimble-Norris, executive director.
Intertribal Friendship House Director Carol Wahpepah was assisted by volunteers from the Friendship House, Neftali Rubio, Ron Spencer, and Friendship House Association of American Indians, Inc. of San Francisco.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Andrew Jolivette, Professor and Department Chair of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University. Dr. Jolivette shared with students true stories about his past, and inspired students with his speech entitled, “Standing Your Ground: Beating the Odds By Changing the System—Together We Are Stronger”.
He began his keynote address by introducing himself in a traditional manner,” Halito. Good evening. Much respect and praise to the Ohlone people of this territory. I am the son of Annetta and Kenneth, the grandson of Gertie and Howard and Isabella and Andrew. The great-grandson of Allie and Eli, Francois and Rosina, Eva and Edward, and Curtis and Leila. I come from the Opelousa and Atakapa nations of southwest Louisiana. I am of mixed-blood Afro-Latin people—made -up of the lifeblood of American Indians, West Africans, and Latin Europeans. I want you to know where I come from as a fellow Native person and as a fellow relation”. Dr. Jolivette continued,” Today is your day. Today is your time to remember and reflect on all that you have struggled through and all that you have accomplished. Remember the gifts that your ancestors pass on to you today. And as you remember, please laugh today, please play today, please study today. Please continue to learn and be confident in yourself. You stand alongside so many ancestors, among so many warriors. You are the light and the hope of seven generations that came before you and seven generations that will come after you. Today, I want you to remember that you are a sacred gift. As you graduate, you become leaders. You change the odds, you stand your ground and become change agents”.
The high school graduates included, Ryen Bill, Pitt River/Mono/Tachi; Jessica Gima, Navajo who plans to attend California State University East Bay; Bonnie Hoffman, Inuit; Anne Hurley, Hoopa who plans to attend Alameda Community College; Olivia Jumping Bull, Ricky Loureiro, who is working full time; Theoren Lulua, Chilcotin and Shushwap who plans to attend Alameda Community College; Monique Ortega who plans to attend community college; Javier Patty, Muscogee Creek who plans to attend San Francisco State University; Adam Reyes Jr., Navajo who plans on becoming a real estate agent; Auoloni Rodriquez, Valentino Spencer, Richard Velarde, Navajo, who hopes to work full time. Eighth grade acknowledgements were given to Lily Lopez, Michael Miller, and Aztlan Hopper. All of these students have graduated at a time when school districts faced drastic cuts in education, teachers, and programs.
The highlight of Dr. Jolivette’s keynote address was a poem that he wrote for these students. It begins,” Stand Your Ground—you there, the son of the Black Man, the son of the Poet, the Daughter of the Frenchman,
Stand your ground.
the brother of the Choctaw,
the teacher of the Apache,
the friend of the Ohlone…
Stand your ground and make seeds grow.
Make seeds grow from nothing, make seeds grow from nothing.
Turn dusty, dark streets to Dances on feet where Ancestors once stood.
Light fires to warm hearts,
light fires to speak truth,
light fires for a million generations to see….
We believe in you,
We believe in you,
We believe in you”…
In addition to his poetry, Dr. Jolivette reminded students that he should not have been a professor, or a department chair at a major University. The odds and statistics would have placed him in prison, or worse. He told students that he grew up in Bayview Hunter’s Point, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the San Francisco area, at a time when most of his friends did end up in prison or dead. He encouraged students to think about, “how do we change the world so more people will have a fair opportunity to achieve their dreams, to aim high like all of you are doing.”
He asked students: “Does it matter what racial or ethnic background you might be? Does it matter that you come from an American Indian or racially mixed background? Many people probably tell you that it doesn’t matter. We are all the same and we should all be treated equally. The reality is that we are not all treated the same. The reality is that it does matter what neighborhood we grow up in. It does matter what ethnic, cultural or racial background we come from. It matters because all of this is what makes us unique. All of this is what makes us who we are as individuals and as a community. The more we help each other and our communities the better we all do,” said Jolivette.
The event was sponsored by the Native American Health Center, UC Berkeley American Indian Graduate Program, Gathering Tribes Gallery, Bills Trading Post and several other Program Sponsors and Program Friends. This very special evening began with a delicious dinner for friends and family members. Without the support of organizations such as the American Indian Child Resource Center, Intertribal Friendship House, and the Native American Health Center many of our students simply cannot succeed academically.
Nanette Bradley Deetz is of Dakota, Cherokee and German descent. She is a poet, writer, educator and sometimes musician whose poetry appears in several anthologies. The most current is “Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down,” published by Scarlett Tanager Press; “Turtle Island to Abya Yala, A Love Anthology of Art and Poetry by Native American and Latina Women,” Malinalli Press, and “Alameda Island Theme Poems, 2004,2005 & 2006.” She combines poetry and music in her band, Redbird Giving which performs at many Bay Area native and non-native venues. She is a correspondent for the Alameda Journal and Native News Online.