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Conference set to plan for World War II internees’ memorial
11 Decmeber 2009

BISMARCK (UTN) - A gathering is scheduled for Memorial Day to talk about a fitting memorial to those who were locked up by their government during World War II. It is hoped that a few of those attending will be former internees – now in their senior years – who were swept up and sent away to American detention facilities scattered throughout the country.

      The Fort Lincoln Planning Conference is scheduled for May 30 to June 2 at United Tribes Technical College, site of the former Fort Lincoln Internment Camp at Bismarck, North Dakota.

GUARDED GATE: The entrance to Fort Lincoln Internment Camp as seen during World War II. Planning is underway for a memorial on the site, now United Tribes Technical College at Bismarck, ND.

      Fort Lincoln was used as an internment site in the U. S. Justice Department’s Alien Enemy Control Program from 1941 to 1946 under the Alien Enemies Act. Over the five year period, the camp held approximately 1,800 Japanese and 1,500 Germans, as well as a small number of Italians, Romanians and others from European countries.

      “As stewards of the place where this happened, we strongly believe that planning for a memorial to internees on our campus should involve the people who were confined here against their will,” said David M. Gipp, United Tribes Technical College president. “We have always welcomed former internees and their families. And we are grateful for the friendships we’ve made over the years. It’s been an honor to help open pathways of emotional and spiritual healing thru our Native American cultural practices. As ethnic groups, we share the historical experience of injustice at the hands of the government.”

      The conference is funded by a matching grant from the National Park Service through the agency’s new Japanese-American Confinement Sites Grant Program.

      In 2009, the NPS awarded the first grants totaling $960,000 to help preserve and interpret the historic locations operated by the War Relocation Authority and the Department of Justice where more than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Over six thousand German and Japanese from 19 Latin American countries were also held at DOJ camps, as well as thousands of German and Italian men, women and children from the United States.

      Partnering with United Tribes to plan the event and provide matching funds are: National Japanese American Historical Society, San Francisco, CA, www.njahs.org; Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, El Cerrito, CA; www.enemyalienfiles.org; Hesono O Productions, Sacramento, CA, www.fromasilkcocoon.com/; German American Internee Coalition, New London, NH, www.gaic.info/; and the North Dakota Museum of Art, Grand Forks, ND, www.ndmoa.com/.

      Many of those involved had collaborated on the 2003 opening at United Tribes of “Snow Country Prison,” a photo-poetry exhibit about the Japanese and German internment experience at Fort Lincoln.

      The conference lead facilitator will be Dr. Satsuki Ina, daughter of a Fort Lincoln internee and executive producer of the award winning documentaries “Children of the Camps” 1999 and “From a Silk Cocoon” 2005.

      Other conference participants include Karen Ebel, also a daughter of a Fort Lincoln internee, who is working for passage of the Wartime Treatment Study Act as president of the German American Internee Coalition; and John Christgau, Minnesota native and author of the 1985 book “Enemies: World War II Alien Internment,” a non-fiction account of internment at Fort Lincoln, reissued this year by the University of Nebraska Press.

      Participation and input will be invited from local and national groups and individuals, and internment scholars through direct invitations and public announcements. It is believed that several former Fort Lincoln internees will be able to attend. Most are in their mid to late eighties.

      For more information about the conference please contact Wes Long Feather 701-255-3285 x 1218, wlongfeather@uttc.edu or Dennis Neumann 701-255-3285 x 1386, opi@uttc.edu.

      United Tribes was awarded $18,919 to host the conference. Congress established the grant program in 2006. Eligible locations included the ten War Relocation Authority camps set up in 1942 that held Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066. Also eligible were dozens of additional locations in at least 16 states, including civilian and military-run internment camps.Fort Lincoln was originally constructed as a military post between 1899 and 1902 at a location now south of the Bismarck airport. It came into being after the military decommissioned Custer’s Fort Lincoln post south of Mandan. The tribes of North Dakota acquired the facility as surplus government property and began education and training programs for American Indians in 1969. United Tribes Technical College is now one of the nation’s premier tribal colleges, granting two-year associate degrees and certificates in 20 technical-vocational fields. The annual student count is over 1,100.