By DAKOTA RUSSELL, Executive Director, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
On Oct. 18 and 19, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) held its quarterly board meeting at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM).
The foundation reviewed their 2018 achievements and future plans. In the days following the meeting, the board members also attended a meeting of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) and hosted a small gathering to build new relationships.
HMWF Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi opened the meeting with an experience she had upon her arrival in Los Angeles last week. “I got into my Uber,” Higuchi said, “and started chatting with the driver. I told him I was going to this meeting. It turned out even though he had grown up in L.A., he knew nothing about the Japanese American incarceration experience. My goal is that the next time I step into my Uber, that driver won’t say, ‘I’ve never heard this story before.’”
The board reviewed the foundation’s eventful year. In May, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, the foundation’s museum near Powell, Wyo., opened an exhibit of works created in the camp by artist Estelle Ishigo. The exhibit included ten watercolors, on loan to the foundation from JANM, that otherwise would have been auctioned to private collectors without the intervention of the foundation and other concerned groups. A
lso in May, the foundation began restoration of a root cellar, measuring over 300 feet long, built at the site by incarcerated Japanese Americans.
Two Heart Mountain board members received national awards this year, and were recognized at the meeting. Higuchi was honored by the Constitutional Accountability Center for her work with the foundation, and participated as part of their panel “A Decade of Progress, a Charge for the Future” in September.
Sam Mihara, who travels the country speaking to a variety of audiences about his incarceration at Heart Mountain, was awarded the Paul A. Gagnon Prize from the National Council for History Education. The prize recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of history education.
Regarding the future of Heart Mountain, members made plans to further develop the site and discussed the need to introduce the Heart Mountain story to a wider audience, which was already in motion with an event planned for this purpose on Sunday.
The board unanimously voted to appoint Dakota Russell, who has been serving as the foundation’s interim executive director since May, to the executive director position. “We have the best staff and board right now that an organization could hope for,” Russell said at the meeting, “and we have a responsibility to be ambitious about utilizing those talents to help us achieve our goals.”
Since 2015, the foundation has taken a lead role in JACSC as the primary grant recipient for the National Park Service Japanese American Confinement Sites grant supporting the consortium. The board reviewed the extraordinary level of cooperation between organizations the consortium has fostered, and talked about the need to make it sustainable and productive for the future.
Also discussed were Heart Mountain’s plans for greater outreach into mass media, beginning with the reception planned for Sunday and the publication of a book by Higuchi next fall.
On Oct. 20 and 21, Heart Mountain board members attended a meeting of JACSC, where they networked with representatives from other organizations and shared the progress the foundation has made.
On Sunday evening, filmmaker and news anchor David Ono hosted a small reception at his historical home in Toluca Lake, inviting a number of writers, actors, producers, and filmmakers to join the HMWF Board of Directors. Together, they discussed the relevance of the incarceration narrative, and how it could resonate with modern audiences.
A high point of the evening was a heartfelt reading by Higuchi from her upcoming book of her memoirs and the stories of several key Heart Mountain characters from pre-war immigration and WWII incarceration up to today, due out in fall of 2019, published by the University of Wisconsin Press.
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation preserves the site of the World War II-era Japanese American concentration camp in Wyoming and works to educate the public on this important chapter in American history. The foundation’s 18-member board includes former incarcerees from the camp, their descendants, and their allies. The Heart Mountain Pilgrimage will be on July 26-27, 2019. (#HMPilgrimage2019) For more information, go to their website at: http://www.heartmountain.org
Photos by DARRELL KUNITOMI