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Poston Pilgrimage calls for people to remember what happened there

John Gutekunst Parker Pioneer

October 13, 2019

A highlight of the ceremony was a performance Taiko drummer Ken Koshio, his son Miro Koshio on flute and dance by Chisao Hata.

From the attack on Pearl Harbor of December 7, 1941 to August, 1945, the United States of America was at war with Japan. From 1942 to 1945, thousands of people of Japanese descent were interred in camps in Poston, Ariz. on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. Most of them were American citizens. They were sent there without due process by the government of the United States. These days were commemorated with the Poston Pilgrimage that was held Oct. 12.

The ceremonies began at the Poston Memorial Monument, which is located south of Poston off Poston-Ehrenberg Road. Many local residents and officials as well as former internees and their families attended.

Speakers at the pilgrimage said the history of Poston should be remembered so they don’t happen again.

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The Master of Ceremonies at the ceremony at the Poston Memorial was Marlene Shigekawa, the President of the Poston Community Alliance. She thanked everyone for attending and said it was important for the stories of Poston to be told.

The guest speaker was U.S. Rep Paul Gosar, a Republican who represents Arizona’s Fourth District. He noted Poston was one of 10 “relocation” camps located all across the West. He added the camp was the result of wartime hysteria.

“During times of stress, some people resort to the worst of human nature,” he said.

Gosar said that, to avoid things like this in the future, we needed to honor American ideals.

“We need to honor our Constitution,” he said. “We need to honor the rights of all our citizens.”

The Rev. Lynn Sugiyama of the Arizona Buddhist Temple said he heard the stories of the camps from his grandparents and parents. He thanked the internees for building a good life for themselves and their families despite being in the camps. He urged those former internees who are still alive to share their stories with his generation and younger generations so they will not be forgotten.

A highlight of the ceremony was a performance Taiko drummer Ken Koshio, his son Miro Koshio on flute and dance by Chisao Hata.

A student from Le Pera Elementary School, Kody McAfee, received a necklace and a check for having the winning entry in an art contest for the pilgrimage.

The colors were posted by a Color Guard from the Freeman H. Sharp American Legion Post.

Miss La Paz County 2019-20, Jessica Aaker, sang the National Anthem.

Following the performances and speeches at the Poston Monument, Shigekawa invited those in attendance to view the memorial bricks that have been laid around the monument, and to read the history of the Poston camp on the kiosk at the entrance to the monument.

The attendees were later taken by bus to the site of the former Poston Elementary School. They were then taken to LePera Elementary School for lunch and educational workshops. They later went to the BlueWater Resort & Casino for exhibits, dinner and an awards ceremony.

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941, there was much hysteria over the Japanese population on the American Pacific Coast. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 calling for the “evacuation” of people of Japanese descent from the Pacific Coast of military internment camps.

The evacuees were given 10 days to get ready to move. They were told they couldn’t bring anything more than what they could carry. They left behind their homes, businesses and property.

A total of 110,000 people were relocated by the War Relocation Authority. There were three camps in Poston, with a total of over 17,000 internees. It was the third largest town in Arizona at the time.

The Poston camp was built on the recommendation of the Office of Indian Affairs, the predecessor of today’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. The head of the OIA, John Collier, feared the State of California would trample over the water rights of the Colorado River tribes unless that water was used by them. He intended to have the Japanese internees build the infrastructure for agricultural irrigation on the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

The local Mohaves were given no choice in the matter.

For much of his life, Collier was an advocate for Native Americans. He advocated for the teaching and learning of Native culture and traditions, and for granting more sovereignty and authority to the tribes.

Those Japanese-Americans who were interred in Poston built much of the water infrastructure that allowed for large-scale agricultural development on the Colorado River Indian Reservation. They also did their best to improve their conditions by planting gardens and building schools, a swimming pool, basketball courts and baseball fields.

Many young Japanese men joined the U.S. Armed Forces, where they distinguished themselves in the European Theater of Operations. Japanese-American units were feared by the Germans.

Following the war and the departure of the Japanese, the relocation camps became settlement camps for Navajos and Hopis from northern Arizona. While many returned home, others stayed. Navajos and Hopis are now recognized as members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

The Poston Monument came about because former internees wanted people to remember what happened here. The Poston Monument Committee consisted of Kiyo Sato, Jim Namba, Ted Kobata and Sid Arase. The architect was Ray Takata.

The Poston Memorial Monument was dedicated Oct. 6, 1992. The kiosk was dedicated Nov. 7, 1995.