Japanese American WWII Camp Survivors and Descendants Protest Fort Sill Concentration Camp Plans

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On June 22nd, 2019, dozens of Japanese American WWII Concentration Camp survivors and descendants traveled from around the country to protest the planned detention of asylum-seeking children at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Japanese American camp survivors stand in front of Fort Sill Gate with protest signs and paper cranes
(photo credit: John Ota)

Six camp survivors, Satsuki Ina, Kiyoshi Ina, Chizu Omori, Emiko Omori, Paul Tomita, and Nikki Nojima Louis, joined together for a press conference at the Bentley Gate entrance to Fort Sill to share out their stories of incarceration and family separation. 

A military police officer interrupted their statements, ordering them to move immediately. Together, survivors remained in place and continued speaking out, even as the officer repeatedly ordered them to leave. As Dr. Satsuki Ina said, “We’ve been removed too many times.” 

ACLU Oklahoma and local Lawton police supported in de-escalation, so that survivors were able to finish speaking and relocate to Shepler Park for a larger demonstration in collaboration with AIM Indian Territory, Dream Action Oklahoma, Black Lives Matter OKC, CAIR Oklahoma, and other local groups. 

Democracy Now! covered Tsuru for Solidarity’s act of resistance, as well as local community leaders’ speeches in full here: 

Following our protest at Bentley Gate, Tsuru for Solidarity members organized at Shepler Park to do healing ceremony with Reverend Duncan Ryuken Williams and AIM spiritual advisor Michael Topaum, to remember all those who had suffered under the state violence embodied in Fort Sill.

Photo of Buddha carved in Manzanar WRA Camp in 1943, for Rev. Duncan Ryuken Williams' ceremony
Photo of a Buddha, carved in Manzanar War Relocation Authority Camp, 1943, used in ceremony at Fort Sill Demonstration (photo credit: Kiyoshi Ina)

As Reverend Duncan Ryuken Williams reflected: 

“It was an honor to officiate a Buddhist ceremony at the start of the rally – chanting the Heart Sutra while the six camp survivors offered incense in front a Buddha statue that had been carved in Manzanar in 1943, which I had borrowed from LA’s Zenshuji Temple. This ceremony was part of a healing ceremony led by Michael Topaum, the spiritual leader of the American Indian Movement, which was apropos to the fact that Fort Sill was a prisoner-of-war camp for Apache tribal members and that the U.S. has a history of forcefully removing their children from their homes and into so-called “Indian Schools.”

After the healing ceremony, we held space for local groups across indigenous, Latinx, immigrant, and other allied communities to speak out against the incarceration of immigrants in detention. 

Five community leaders from Tsuru for Solidarity, ACLU OKlahoma, Blak Lives Matter OKC, AIM Indian Territory  stand together with fists raised at Shepler Park, with paper cranes behind them. A protest sign reads "Reunification Not Incarceration" behind them.
Tsuru for Solidarity co-organizer Mike Ishii, Nicole McAfee (ACLU Oklahoma), Reverend Sheri Dickerson (Black Lives Matter OKC), Michael Topaum (AIM Indian Territory) in solidarity at Shepler Park demonstration
(photo credit: Stacie Hiramoto)

Dr. Satsuki Ina stands with mic in front of banner that reads "Stop repeating history!" with paper cranes in foreground
Dr. Satsuki Ina speaks about her own incarceration experience as a child in Crystal City, Texas Department of Justice Camp, and the lasting trauma inflicted upon children experiencing incarceration and family separation
(photo credit: Ruth Sasaki)

Dozens of community leaders and members stand with fists raised in front of paper cranes.
Survivors and descendants of Japanese American and Indigenous prison camps, along with allies, pose at the conclusion of the demonstration (Photo credit: Karen Ishizuka)

To end, we invited community members to leave a red handprint on a banner resolving to end concentration camps.

(Photo credit: Ruth Sasaki)

One of our Tsuru for Solidarity Fort Sill participants, Alan Kondo, filmed our action and created a documentary short. Watch below to see our action as well as interviews on the ground with our members and allies:

(credit and deep gratitude to: Alan Kondo)

We found so much love and support in Oklahoma–we are full of gratitude for all of the communities who welcomed us and joined us in standing against the incarceration of immigrants. Thank you for your support and your trust in us to create this space together. 

Our work together led to our return to Fort Sill in July — check out the powerful impact of this coalition-building here.

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