Joel Kurke is a Blackfeet, Irish and Polish poet and emcee living in Seattle, Washington.
Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, xicana, born and raised in the bay area works with Decolonize Oakland.
Looking back on those years when I was out there on the streets I have come to realize it wasn't everything good. But also it wasn't everything so bad either. I would have rather lived a life of struggle than a life of having everything handed to me. I would have rather experienced the hardships and pain, because, it was a gift of strength to me. Not in the birthday presents or Christmas gift kind of way, but, a gift only hunger, cold winter nights and homelessness can give you.
As winter slowly arrives. Snow in the mountains. Winter chills outside, I am reminded of those nights that I lived on the park benches at the waterfront when I was 12-years-old. I don't know why I slept there with the Puget Sound underneath me but I did. I only had a backpack then. Jean shorts that showed my knobby-knees. And the blackened sky. The water pounding underneath me. And most of those nights I was wrapped in a winter chill with a pillow of silence. I wasn't scared. Although my stomach was begging and pleading with me for anything edible and threatened me with slight pains; I fell asleep OK.
I was curious waking up each day. Where would the food come from? What would happen today? Who will I meet? It was more of an adventure than anything. I would think of my family at times back home on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation but slowly tucked those images away, those thoughts. There was a greater purpose for me out there in Seattle. I dont know why, but, it just seemed easier to me being out there in Seattle than being back home. A child knows their environment. The atmosphere. The warmth and coldness of a home. A child knows if the home is fractured or whole. A child knows.
I used to carry around with me many, many blank journals. I used to write down everything that happened each day. I recorded most of those stories in the journals that had family photos on them, mostly pictures of my little cousin Glorianna (who grew up calling me Auntie), but over time I lost every single one of them. Some people stole them at the homeless shelters. Some people stole them from my youth home (La'ba'te'yah) when I got there when I was 15. And the rest I lost in a house fire. Almost five years of my life when I was on the streets of Seattle lost. I remember the most important things though. The people. The love. The family we had. The hardships. The good times. The bad. But most of all I remember the ones who wanted something more for me. Those who wanted something better for me too. The ones who would invite me to Westlake Mall to get something to eat. The ones who would get a motel room for me for the night. The ones who would walk side by side with me and let others know that no one is to harass me, or else. And, the ones who invited me into their lives and stood side by side wtih me out there on 1st and Pike.
Yes. I am a sentimentalist. I was told that is my biggest weakness as a writer. But, this writing here is just for me. Not for a class assignment. Not for a college professor. Not for a publisher or an editor; just me. I have been writing since I was 4-years-old. I have since gone to the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2000 and learned more of the professional art and creativity of letters, lines, space and pacing. Stanzas. And point of view. Writing was always my greatest strength; poetry was always my first greatest love. I had all those journals with me in Seattle full of poetry, memoirs and thoughts. I wish I had them today, but, I believe there is reason and purpose for everything.
Even though I was 12 when I first got to Seattle, there were others who ran away at 8, 9, 10 or 11 years old. Some of them ran away with their baby brother or sister. Some ran away by themselves. But, we were all there just the same. Winter was the worst time for all of us. I think snow is one of the most beautiful of creations, but, to have to live in it, sleep in it and let it fall upon you insn't so beautiful.But, I always respected it and appreciated its beauty.
I am only reminded of those dark nights because of how cold it has been getting lately. Today is something beautiful and warm, but, the night is reminescent of my first days in downtown Seattle. Tears fell like crazy as I walked from my Burndale Home to the bus stop ten blocks away. Whenever I went to Seattle before that night I walked to 7-11 and caught the 150. It was a two hour bus ride between Burndale and the City of Sealth. Seattle was named in honor of Chief Sealth. Seattle was like an old Sepeh (Grandpa) gathering his children in the heart of downtown and uniting them as family; like an old Sepeh who still loved from the other side.
I don't know if you would call it Skid Row? But, my Uncle Jimi told me that he once used to live or hang out in downtown Seattle before, tool? Or, maybe he told me stories about other Natives living there, but, his generation had lived and survived there just the same. I wasn't a drinker. I never did any drugs like most people around me, but, I never thought any less of anyone either. Those were the people who kept me company and told me stories and ate Teriyaki with me on the corner of 2nd and Pike. Those are the ones who would walk through Pike Place Market with me and share a pear, plum or apple with me. They were the ones Chief Sealth placed in my life to uplift and prevent the worst that could have happened to me, because even though he is with our Maker now, Chief Sealth still hasn't abondoned his children.
As you read this you might be wondering how in the world did I end up in Seattle as a 12-year-old girl. Without blame and self pity I will tell you this: It happened because it was meant to happen. It was something that couldn't have been prevented or altered. It wasn't something so good, but also, it wasn't something so bad either. I had the right people in my life who helped me through it all: Demetrius, Playboy, & Tears. Others came and gone, but, those were the ones who solely remained. Omar, NS1 was there as well.