A Faith Forged by Common Struggles

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Native American tribes represented at Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe seen here making an incense offering during the memorial service at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.  (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe seen here making an incense offering during the memorial service at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

At the Tule Lake Pilgrimage interfaith memorial service this year, members from different tribes offered incense in solidarity of a shared history.

Dakota Tribe

Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

“We have been looking forward to this for months,” said Gwen. “We felt we have a common experience and that we might be able to learn about the healing process in this (Japanese American) community and take away something that might help our community.”

“We wanted to hear other people talk about their history,” said Glenn. “We are Dakota people, and we have a brutal history. And even though we know what had happened, we don’t want to keep talking about it. We want to come up with an answer so we can heal from all the things that have happened and continue from here….We wanted to come here because we had heard people try to come up with answers here.”

What surprised Gwen, however, was the positive energy at the pilgrimage.

“I didn’t expect there to be so much happiness and laughter and sharing of good feelings,” aid Gwen. “I thought it was going to be very somber. And it had its somber moments but it was like a big family reunion, and we were able to be a part of it, so it’s been an amazing experience.”

Glenn said he was comforted to meet people who were not afraid to be honest with their feelings.

“We met some people who understand crying, hurt, anger, fear,” he said. “They understand what those really mean. We try to talk to other people, but they say those are signs of weakness. They don’t understand, but here, there was a lot of that, and we understood where that was coming from, and we got to meet other people that really understood what those emotions mean. That made us feel better and gave us some encouragement.”

According to Glenn, many youths in their tribe are no longer interested in learning about their history.

“The young people are tired of hearing about the genocide, the killing and the executions,” said Glenn. “So we need to develop a way to describe what had happened so they can understand it and be proud of who they are…

“We’re here to go away with a different language, and we heard some of that already. We want to talk about restoring our history. Our history isn’t filled with all negative things. There are a lot of positives so we want to restore this in its proper way. Then we want to honor who we are, honor who the Dakota people were a long time ago.”

Modoc, Klamath, Paiute, Yahooskin

Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe.

The Klamath Basin is home to three tribes, the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskins, although Robinson noted that the Yahooskins would prefer to be recognized as Pauites.

This is Robinson’s second full pilgrimage experience, but she has been attending the community cultural program at the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls, Ore. for several years.

For Robinson, the pilgrimage “feels like a sisterhood because we went through the same thing.”

Robinson became connected with Tule Lake through Misa Joo, who had been involved with Robinson’s father’s movement to retain his ancestral land during the 1970s.

Robinson’s father, Edison Chiloquin, a World War II veteran, made international headlines in 1974 when he refused a $273,000 payment from the federal government in exchange for his property and instead insisted on ownership to his ancestral land.

Joo, a University of Oregon student at the time, said Chiloquin had visited the campus in an effort to garner student support. When the students were not lobbying, Joo recalled fond memories of camping out with groups of students at the tribal village.

“We’d always go back to Edison, and he’d play the guitar and he would sing, and they would sing,” recalled Joo. “It was a nice, great time.”

Joo noted that although Chiloquin had served in the Pacific during World War II, he did not harbor animosity towards the Japanese or the Japanese Americans.

“When he first came home, he may have had a little,” said Robinson. “But he didn’t hold onto that feeling that some people do. He understood that it was the governments fighting, not the people.”

On Dec. 5, 1980, after years of campaigning, Congress passed the Chiloquin Act, signing over the title of the land to Chiloquin.

Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota Tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota Tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“We’re still fighting for our rights and the things that were taken away from us,” said Robinson. “They (early white settlers) started by trying to annihilate us, then they segregated us, and then they tried to assimilate us. Now, they’ve given up and are trying to avoid us, and are trying not to recognize us as a sovereign nation. We have to fight for everything, including the rights that were guaranteed in our treaties.”

Many rights, such as U.S. citizenship, were not automatically granted to tribal members, who ironically were indigenous to the Americas, unlike the immigrant white settlers.

It was not until Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 that the large majority of indigenous tribal members were recognized as U.S. citizens.

However, the act did not recognize tribal members born before 1924, and it was not until the Nationality Act of 1940 that all indigenous members born on U.S. soil were recognized with U.S. citizenship.

Both Robinson and the Wasicunas had mixed feelings towards the U.S. Constitution.

“It was intended to create a nation when there was already a nation, so it is in conflict with the way it was, as if we didn’t exist,” said Robinson.

Glenn referred to the Constitution as “a foreign constitution that belongs to somebody else.”

Full Circle

This year’s pilgrimage had the inter-faith memorial service in front of the former Tule Lake jail, which had been built during the war by Japanese American camp inmates, at the direction of Jimi Yamaichi, a Tulean draft resister.

Robinson felt it was not a coincidence that out of the thousands of structures that had been a part of the Tule Lake Segregation Center, the jail would be one of only a handful of buildings still standing after 70-plus years.

Angela Sutton with the National Park Service leads a tour of the Tule Lake jail artifacts that were salvaged. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

Angela Sutton with the National Park Service leads a tour of the Tule Lake jail artifacts that were salvaged. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

“If it (jail) had been built by any one other than the Japanese, it would have been gone by now,” said Robinson. “You wouldn’t have that anchor for this fight (to avoid expansion of the local airport on the former Tule Lake camp site), so I believe our creator knew what he was doing when he had the Japanese build it, because now it is the foundation for this park.”

Robinson’s words rang true in many ways.

Yamaichi, who himself had mixed feelings about building a jail for his own people, said it wasn’t easy to recruit Japanese American men to help build a jail within a jail during the war.

“They said bakatare (damned fool),” recalled Yamaichi.

But he was able to cobble together a crew of about 30 to 40 men.

“Building the jail wasn’t easy either,” said Yamaichi. “We had no machines at that time. Everything was done by hand.

“And why this jail has stood for so long, if you consider other concrete jobs here, is that all the water that was used was not canal water. That water was contaminated water, so I made sure we used good water out of the well. That’s the reason it’s still standing…I’m not proud of it but it’s still here.”

In another twist of fate, Angela Sutton with the National Park Service said Bill Osborne and his family donated the jail’s original metal cell bars, doors and bunks in August 2012.

According to Sutton, when the Bureau of Reclamation was auctioning off buildings from the Tule Lake camp site after the war, Bill’s mother, Allison M. and father, James Edgar Osborne, had the foresight to go to the auction and purchase whatever they could.

Sutton said Mrs. Osborne had helped teach at one of the elementary schools at the Tule Lake Segregation Center and had also provided fresh vegetables to the camp inmates. After the Segregation Center closed, Mrs. Osborne felt that it was important to preserve whatever the family could of the camp because she felt Tule Lake was going to be recognized as a significant part of history one day.

It so happened that when Mr. Osborne arrived at the auction, the interior items from the jail were being auctioned off. And in another coincidence, he later needed a shed and built the structure over the area where the Tule Lake artifacts were lying, preventing the items from rusting.

Both Allison and James Osborne , however, passed away before the Tule Lake site was designated as a national monument and never saw their foresight come to fruition.

After the Osborne family donated the artifacts to the NPS, Sutton noted that the Osbornes’ grandson once asked her whether the items his grandparents had preserved were of any significance. To this, Sutton told him, “You have no idea. There’s only a handful of structures still standing on the site. Of those few handfuls, there’s only four that are under management of the National Park Service.

“These are the doors to one of those four buildings, and of the chances, out of over a thousand-plus buildings, the one that your grandmother was able to get remnants from is the one standing and is our main interpretive place to go to. It’s like she knew.”

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