On sacred ground: the Betty Ford Center honors the land on which it sits

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
3 min readNov 14, 2023

By Jeremiah Gardner

NOTE: This was published for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s monthly Recovery Advocacy Update. If you’d like to receive our advocacy emails, subscribe today.

Agua Caliente bird singers (left) and dancers and drummers from multiple Native nations (right) ceremoniously blessed the land at the Betty Ford Center’s anniversary and alumni celebration on Nov. 3, 2023.

When the Betty Ford Center celebrates its anniversary each November, Native American singers and dancers ceremoniously bless the land — reminding visitors, staff, patients and families that the world’s best-known place for initiating recovery from addiction sits on the sacred homelands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

“We honor and respect the enduring relationship that exists between these peoples and this land — and the rich traditions of healing and hope that have existed here for centuries,” said Sarita McGowan-Da Silva, EdD, outreach manager and national Native American representative for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the national nonprofit addiction and mental health care system for which the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., is a flagship location.

Dr. McGowan-Da Silva, whose job is dedicated to collaboration with tribes across the country, initiated the annual ceremony of Agua Caliente bird singers and Native American dancers in 2022 for the Betty Ford Center’s 40th anniversary and brought them back for the 41st anniversary on Nov. 3, 2023, just as National Native American Heritage Month got under way.

WATCH VIDEO: Ceremonial Blessing by Agua Caliente and Native Dancers at Betty Ford Center (2023)

“We are truly grateful to the Agua Caliente as well as dancers and drummers from multiple Native nations for their land blessing, cultural healing, and precious knowledge shared at our anniversary and alumni weekend celebration,” added Hazelden Betty Ford Diversity, Equity and Inclusion National Director Andrew Williams — host of the organization’s Recovery Equity podcast series, which in 2023 has featured nine episodes focused on health and recovery within Native communities.

With Native Americans facing tragic disparities in access to care and addiction-related outcomes — and, according to reports, experiencing exploitation and fraud by people claiming to help in areas such as Arizona — Hazelden Betty Ford is working intentionally to strengthen relationships with tribes, advocate for and lift up Native voices, and develop more culturally attentive care of its own.

Hazelden Betty Ford’s Dr. Sarita McGowan-Da Silva

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Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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