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World War II Internment Exhibit to Open at United Tribes Technical College
September 11, 2003

BISMARCK, ND - Sixty years ago it was a Department of Justice internment camp. The government put up a 10-foot tall chain link fence topped with strands of barbed wire. Armed guards kept certain people locked inside.

      Now it's a college campus with stately buildings, American elm trees and paved parking lots.

      Then it served, as some people thought, to secure the homeland. Now its purpose is to serve in the education of American Indian students.

      Education will remain the central purpose for a major exhibition and public programs at Bismarck's Fort Lincoln; the subject will be the internment experience of German and Japanese nationals, as well as Japanese American citizens deemed "enemy aliens" following the renunciation of their citizenship during World War II. Snow Country Prison: Interned in North Dakota will open October 4 - 5 in Bismarck at the site of the former camp, now United Tribes Technical College.

      Organized by the North Dakota Museum of Art and UTTC, the exhibition is sponsored by the Otto Bremer Foundation and the North Dakota Humanities Council. Dr. Marilyn Snyder, Curator, and Scott Schaffnit, Outreach Programs Coordinator, of the Education Department of the State Historical Society and Frank Vyzralek, historian and retired North Dakota archivist, consulted on the exhibition.

      "There's a low level of awareness these days about what went on here during the war," says UTTC President David M. Gipp. "Occasionally we get inquiries or visitors who knew someone who was locked up here."

      In 1941 the U. S. Justice Department converted Fort Lincoln from a surplus military post into an internment camp to detain people arrested in the United States as enemy aliens. Over its five-year operation as a camp, the Bismarck facility housed about 1,500 men of German nationality, and over 1,800 of Japanese ancestry. The FBI arrested the first group of Japanese and German men in the days immediately after Pearl Harbor. The arrests were done under the authority of the Alien Enemies Act, and these so-called "enemy aliens" were removed from their homes, primarily on the West Coast and East Coast, and sent to camps in isolated parts of the country.

      "The upcoming exhibit and public programs are an outgrowth of scholarly efforts to examine and teach about the government's use of isolation and imprisonment against certain groups of people," says Gipp. "At the core is an examination of human rights issues."

      The exhibition, curated by Laurel Reuter, Director of the North Dakota Museum of Art, opens with a grand opening on Saturday, October 4 at 6 p.m. in the United Tribes Cultural Arts Center, a log cabin style building on the north side of the campus where it will remain through November 30. After the opening weekend, tours will be available by request only; phone 255-3285 ext. 427. It will subsequently be seen at the North Dakota Museum of Art in Grand Forks from February 28 to April 11, 2004, and then tour to the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, Moorhead, Minnesota from April 18 to June 20, 2004, and the Taube Art Center in Minot, North Dakota from August 10 to October 1, 2004.

      The exhibition will feature historic photos and murals of the camp, floor-to-ceiling cloth banners imprinted with images of people interned there, and wall text drawn from the haiku poems of one of the Japanese internees, Itaru Ina, the father of Dr. Satsuki Ina, a consultant to the exhibition.

      The public programming surround the exhibition will begin on Saturday, October 4, at 1 p.m. with a screening of films led by Dr. Ina in the lower level of the Jack Barden Center on the UTTC campus.

      Dr. Satsuki Ina is a licensed family therapist and founder of the Family Study Center, Sacramento, CA. She is a retired professor from California State University, Sacramento, and producer of Children of the Camps, a PBS documentary about the experiences of six children confined to internment camps during World War II. Dr. Ina's father was interned at Fort Lincoln while she, her brother, and her mother were incarcerated in a War Relocation Authority camp in Tule Lake.

      The public programs will continue at 2 p.m. Sunday, October 5, when Dr. Ina will be joined by other humanities scholars to discuss the enemy alien experience, Fort Lincoln's history as a camp, and the affects of internment on people's lives. Other panelists include:

      John Christgau is the author of the book Enemies: World War II Alien Internment, which is based on the stories of Ft. Lincoln internees. Published twenty years ago, Enemies is recognized as the first book on the Enemy Alien Program, and a key volume in the history of North Dakota. According to Christgau, "My view is that Ft. Lincoln stands as historical proof of how wartime hysteria and ethnic prejudices can deprive immigrants of their civil liberties. That same wartime hysteria, driven again by ethnic prejudices, is tragically affecting the Muslim and Arab American communities today." Christgau, a native of Crookston, Minnesota, is the author of six books and a part-time English professor in California.

      Karen Ebel, an attorney, is an activist instrumental in bringing to public attention the story of German alien internment during World War II. She was the driving force behind the introduction of Federal legislation aimed at studying the wartime treatment of aliens. She will discuss enemy alien issues and tell the story of her father, Max Ebel, a Fort Lincoln internee.

      Isao Fujimoto, a long-time professor at the University of California, Davis, founded the Asian American Studies program and the UC Davis Graduate Program in Community Development. A long time activist for the nurturing of civil societies, Dr. Fujimoto has had a special interest in the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. At a recent Enemy Alien exhibition in Sacramento, Dr. Fujimoto read excerpts from a half dozen letters between his father and himself while his father was confined at the Missoula camp. What struck Satsuki Ina was how those passages conveyed the human emotions and added the personal dimensions to topics such as social justice and civil rights.

      In addition to the Saturday film screening, the grand opening, and the Sunday afternoon symposium with the scholars and those former internees who are able to attend, activities at UTTC during the weekend include a book signing with the humanities scholars, and self-guided tours of the campus using a map that identifies buildings and structures of the internment period.

      Educational outreach is being planned for children under the North Dakota Museum of Art's Rural School Initiative. Funded by the North Dakota Legislature, museum staff will work with teachers to prepare their students, via interactive television and study guides, from rural schools in each quadrant of North Dakota where the exhibition will be installed. Teachers from southwest North Dakota interested in participating should contact the North Dakota Museum of Art at 701 777-4195.

      The Nash Family Foundation, Ecolab, Robert and Virginia Dunnigan, the Bismarck Tribune, KX Television Network, KAT Productions and the North Dakota Council on the Arts have provided additional support for the Snow Country Prison.

      The original Fort Lincoln buildings were erected as a military post between 1899 and 1902 in a location now south of the Bismarck airport. United Tribes assumed control of the facility for education and vocational training in 1969. The college now grants two year, associate degrees and certificates in 14 technical-vocational fields. The student population is about 550.

 

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