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Monday, September 19, 2005


From Beyond Left Field: Chapter 3, part 1 of 2.

The third story in series by Walter Tommy. For reference see the introduction from Tuesday, September 6.

This story was tough for me as the editor. I decided early on that I would split it into two parts, and almost split it into 3 separate entries.

Here is part one.

1970 I was out firefighting all summer long. September was our last fire, but in July while we were in town my cousin asked me to go with him to BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) at the Arctic Bowl. I asked him, ”What for?”

He said, “let’s apply for school.”

“OK,” I said. We applied and Frank Peratavich helped us with our application.

When I got home mom told me, “ You got an important letter here". I looked at the address and it was from BIA. I opened and read it. I had a big smile on my face. Mom asked what it was about. I told her that I got accepted for training. Her eyes got big and she asked what I did. I told her the whole story. She was so happy she gave me a big hug and kissed me.

“Good for you skook”, which means 'son'.

I was asked to go back to BIA and talked with them because they wanted to know what kind of training I wanted. I knew that the oil pipeline was going to be built, so I asked for welding training.

I had over $6000 but they game me $300 for clothes. I did a little shopping for a few more clothes and they gave me a date in the last part of October to go to Seattle for orientation into BIG city life.

When mom and my stepfather got me to the airport, I saw Shirley Holmberge there. We both had a big smile and hug. She asked me where I was going and I told her. She was so happy because that was exactly where she was going also. When we got to Sea-Tac Airport it was so huge we got lost and couldn’t find the baggage claim area, so we found the restaurant and had coffee and breakfast.

I asked her if she had a phone number to call, she said no. What? Well I had the phone number to call so we waited until 8:00 to call. They asked where we would be, I told them we would wait at the loading zone.

When they (BIA staff) got there they asked us where our luggage was. We didn’t know and they sounded angry. I said, “Hey! Wait a minute here. The village I come from is so small, maybe the most that live there is only about 300 people.” He got really apologetic and said, “OK, OK. I’m sorry please accept my apology.” So we went to get our luggage.

We stayed at 3100 West Lake Ave. The first thing when I woke up I went out on the balcony and saw so much smoke and thought there was a forest fire around. My roommate was a Viet Nam vet and I mentioned this to him. He laughed and said “No, that’s car smog.”

I couldn’t believe him, he said, “Yeah, that’s car exhaust fumes.” After a month of big city life we got our destination. I asked Shirley where she was going. Madera California. Wow! Oh boy! That’s where I’m going also. We were the biggest group to arrive at the same time, so there was a celebration waiting for us.

After our training we were asked if we would like to go somewhere down there for experience. I was given a choice of Louisiana or Texas. I said, “No, I want to go back home.” Me, Shirley and Annette Bearchild figured we’d go to Anchorage. But when we got to Seattle I wanted to go back down to California. They begged me and cried but I didn’t want to come home with them.

I gave Annette my plane ticket and kissed her and told her to go on up there, "You’ll enjoy it up there". They kept crying and begging me to please come home with us. "NO!" I had my mind set to go back down. I got my luggage and caught the bus back to the Seattle Greyhound station. I had enough money to get to Sacramento. From there I called my friend to come pick me up. He was so surprised and happy he said, “Wait there, I’ll be right down.”

I stayed with them for about a month. We traveled all around Eureka, Monterrey, Santa Cruz, L.A. then to Fresno where I stayed and helped pay for rent with my councilor from the school I was at.

Finally in May, 1971, I asked him to take me to San Francisco. I wanted to go to Alcatraz Island. That was when Indians of all tribes took over the Island. The Feds went back on an old treaty that stated any Federal land that is not being used reverted back to Indian Land.

I got there early at Pier 41 under the Bay Bridge and waited for anyone. Finally this long grey-haired Eskimo came up, “Hey! Brother, you’re from the Fairbanks area, huh?”


He was from Southwest Alaska. “Joe Bill is my name,” he said. I told him my name and I asked him, “Could you do me a favor?”

He said, “ What?”

"Do you drink?”


“Buy me some beer, wine and whiskey and cigs.”

So we walked to the liquor store and got what I wanted. We went back to the pier, and sat around for a while drinking. Pretty soon Indians started to come around, someone opened up the warehouse and we all went inside. Of course I shared my drinks with them. They made liquor runs also, until our boat came up. But just before, Joe came in and told me, “Hey, your homeboy wants to talk with you. He’s out there in the car.”

I said, “My homeboy?”

“Yeah, homeboy out there, he’s waiting for you.”

I went out there and looked in and here was one-eyed Al Stevens. I really didn’t know him, in fact that was our first meeting. He started talking to me in our own language and I understood every word he was saying. I was so surprised and happy to hear my own language way down there. I got in the car with him and he said, “You want to go back home?”


“Yeah, we’re leaving in the morning. You don’t have to worry about money, we have enough to get back home.”

“ALL RIGHT! Hell yeah, I want to go back home. It’s springtime. Ducks and geese, get ready for firefighting season, but the only reason I’m here is I want to go out to the island.”

He said “OK, but be back on the first or second boat in the morning, otherwise we’re leaving whether you’re here or not."

I said I’d be there.

When we got out there (to Alcatraz) everybody was feeling high, so they made more runs back to San Francisco. It gets real dark down there, so as they were coming back they hit some rocks and punched a hole in our boat.

Walter Tommy

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