SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Martin Waukazoo, the Oakland-based head of the Native
American Health Center, was one of three recipients of the 2005 Champions
of Health Professionals Diversity Award.
The award was presented by the nonprofit California Wellness Foundation to
individuals who have done exemplary work in the health field in underserved
communities. The award also includes a $25,000 grant to each of the three
The Native American Health Center in Oakland has been in existence for 20
years and has seen its operating budget go from a little over $800,000 to
over $13 million today. In that time, Waukazoo has seen the organization
grow from 14 to 170 employees. The organization also has helped clinics in
Fresno and Sacramento that ran into management difficulties.
In a 2004 interview in Indian Country Today, Waukazoo said that the goal of
his organization was not to take over the other facilities, but rather to
get them back on their feet and return them to local control.
"I feel very strongly about keeping local control," said Waukazoo.
Waukazoo and his wife, Helen, have been prominent voices in the health
field for American Indians. Helen is CEO of a drug and alcohol treatment
facility in San Francisco known as the Friendship House, which just opened
a new multi-million-dollar facility to great fanfare in April.
If nothing else, Waukazoo's rise to the top of the health care field is a
classic up-from-the-bottom story. At the opening ceremonies for the
Friendship House, Waukazoo recalled the days in the early 1970s when he
went to the Friendship House because of alcohol addiction. It was there
that he met Helen who was working at the facility and after getting sober
began his meteoric rise.
In addition to running the Native American Health Center, he has started
programs for at-risk American Indian youth as well as established ties to a
variety of educational institutions.
The Wellness Foundation issued a press release in which Waukazoo spoke on
the importance of health clinics to the American Indian population.
"A clinic is not just a health facility; it's also a community center. If
someone comes from Arizona, New Mexico or South Dakota and they pull into
the Greyhound bus station, the first question they're going to ask is,
'where's the clinic?' The clinic is the heart of the community."
Additionally, Waukazoo spoke on the importance of having American Indians
enter the health field as a mode of positive change. He stressed the
importance of having American Indians in the health field to provide
positive role models for American Indian youth. He has already seen inroads
in this area.
A father of three and now a grandfather of two, Waukazoo is a member of the
Rosebud Sioux Tribe and is a graduate of Black Hills State University in
The California Wellness Center is a private foundation headquartered in
southern California that also operates a satellite office in San Francisco.
According to foundation literature, the primary mission of the organization
is to provide grants for "health promotion, wellness education and disease