February 19, 2008

Japanese interned with Indians

Celebrating a shared history

Indians laud WWII Japanese American internees who developed their landIn a now familiar tale, 120,000 Japanese Americans were removed from the West Coast and relocated to internment camps after Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent U.S. entry into World War II. But in a little known piece of that history, the U.S. government sent nearly 20,000 of them to three camps on a Colorado River Indian Tribe reservation at Poston with an explicit plan to use Japanese Americans--most of them Californians skilled in farming--to help develop tribal lands for later Indian use.

Under the plan, the Japanese Americans helped clear lands and build irrigation systems, started farms and built schools from handmade adobe bricks. Their work in developing a reservation that previously had no electricity, running water or modern homes--many families lived in mud huts--laid the foundation for the tribe to jump-start its standard of living and thrive financially, said Michael Tsosie, director of the tribal museum.

Now, 66 years ago today after then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the relocation, the two peoples are deepening their shared bonds.

Last week, Native Americans and two dozen former Japanese American internees gathered in Poston to memorialize their experiences and view a new documentary about it, "Passing Poston," by New York filmmakers Joe Fox and James Nubile. They also discussed plans to restore some of the barracks, seek national historical landmark status for the site and build a museum about their shared history.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see America's Concentration Camps.

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