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Monday, October 03, 2005


Beyond Left Field. Alcatraz, pt.2.

Part two of a story by Walter Tommy. The first part is here. The introduction to this series is here.

I woke up and didn’t know where I was. There was this big Indian woman cooking breakfast and she turned and asked me if I was hungry. "Yeah". There was hot coffee there too, so I got up, sat down at the kitchen table and drank coffee. She asked me if I knew whose room I was in.


She said, “He’s from your hometown.” I frowned at her questioningly, and she said, “Greg BigJoe.” I knew his mom, dad, brothers and sisters, but not him. Years later, in 1988, he became my brother-in-law.

After breakfast I thanked her and said, I have to catch a boat, I have a ride waiting to go back home. She smiled and wished me well and a good, safe journey home.

When I got down to the landing I saw about 300-400 guys standing around. I went up to this guy and asked if the boat was there. He pointed with pursed lips. I found those Indians down there don’t point with their hands. I walked over and didn’t see any boat. I walked around looking and looking. I checked the little dock and thought, “this is the place we landed. I looked back at all those guys and was thinking, “Are they just playing games with me, playing around with my head?” Then I saw this guy jump into the water. I got curious and walked off to where he jumped in.

I looked in the water and saw our boat and walked all around checking it out. Yep, that’s our boat. And I said, “Hey! Is that our boat?”

They all nodded, yeah. I said to myself, “Oh, no! Shit! Now we’re stuck out here.” I was stuck, and I missed my ride back home. I went back up to Greg’s room and told the lady what had happened. She said, “Oh no.”

We had no way to even call a ride. No phone, no electricity, and all the water was cut off to try to force us off the Island.

By the second week we were running low on food and drinking water. So the women and children drank and ate first. We had to ration out every bit of what we had. Every day we would get in the sweat house and prayed and sing. Almost no water and food left by then.

At the end of the third week this old man came out, saw our boat under water and said, “ No wonder I didn’t see any Alcatraz Indians around.” There was an old crane right there, so he said he’d go back into town and get some tools. “We’ll get it working and get your boat back up.” Until then if anyone wants to get off I’ll give you a ride now.

My young Nebraska Indian roommate and I looked at each other. I said, “Yeah!” I don’t like being stranded in small places.

You see how big Alaska is, I’m used to going around as far as I could and feel the freedom of traveling anywhere I wanted to go. That’s why I always tell my nephews and nieces to go to school, get your education and apply to a school, especially down in the lower 48 somewhere. That way you learn about other people and their ways of living. Experience life, everything you learn you bring back home to teach our people that there is so much more in the good earth our Creator wants for us. Sure, you might experience prejudice and hatred, but you know your own culture and traditional ways. Take pride in that but don’t take it to the point of being better than others.

That old man took us past Treasure Island the naval base and into Oakland. He had a friend there where we could stay for a while. He took us to this old Indian woman’s house and introduced us. I called her "Grandma", her daughter "Auntie" and the two little boys "Nephews". They accepted us right away and showed us our bedroom.

Later on that afternoon I asked Nephews to show me around a little. So they took me to this huge park down around the streets where I saw this old, blind man and probably his daughter. At that time they used to have peace sign and did that to me. “Peace brother.” “Peace to you too.” We smiled and kept walking around sight seeing.

Later on that evening I walked around by myself into this park where I saw a huge crowd of Mexican/Chicanos. One says, “Hey! Indio, want a drink?”

“Sure.” So I approached them and they handed me a gallon of spinyada wine and I drank with them. They asked me where was I from. “Alaska”. That got them interested and accepted me. I stayed with them for about 45 minutes or so. Then said, “Gracious, adios.”

I walked around where I was earlier that day, and saw another old man and his daughter. They were smoking pot and asked if I’d like some? “Sure!” So I spent a little time with them, thanked them and continued walking around. I smelled some more pot smoke and looked down this dark alley. There was a couple of guys back there and I could see the glow of their joints, puffing away. They asked me if I wanted to smoke? “Sure.” So I walked back there and smoked with them.

Then I figured I’d better get back to where I was staying. Grandma and Auntie asked, “Where did you go.” I told them and they said, “We want to talk with you in the morning.”

Most of that night I was thinking, uh, oh. I knew I would get a good talking to from Grandma. That morning I got to the breakfast table, had a hot cup of coffee and breakfast. Sure enough Grandma spoke to me very gently and said that in park I went through, people get killed there every night. Those other places I had been through are very dangerous too.

She said, “You got an Indian name. You know why? When you go to the Spirit World your people know you by your Indian name. You also have a pet name, the only ones who know that is you and your grandmother. You can go anywhere on Turtle Island and never have to worry about where you’re going to stay or eat. Whiteman and Blackman cannot do that.” I find that is very true.

Well, about a week later I got enough money to go back to Fresno. My friend was so surprised and happy. We stayed in this huge fig orchard. I worked that fall operating a forklift and stacking big boxes of figs. I made enough money to come back home. This was in September, so when I got off the airplane I was freezing.

Tall and slim. Plus very dark skinned. My mom is a very petite, little, Indian woman. I walked right up to her and she motioned me to pass on. She didn’t recognize me at all. I asked her “Are you looking for somebody?” “I’m looking for my son.” She looked up at me and just grabbed me and hugged me and kissed me, crying, “Oh! Skook. You’re home finally."

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