the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin
D. Roosevelt issued Executive
Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The Executive Order forced the
relocation of over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes
and moved them to military concentration camps where they lived for
three to four years. Two-thirds of the Japanese were American citizens.
The three Poston camps built on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation
served as one of ten camps built in seven states. Between 1942 and 1945,
the Poston camps housed over 18,000 Japanese and Japanese American detainees.
Poston Camps I, II, and III were unique. The three camps served not
only as a place to house thousands of Japanese detainees but the infrastructure
created by and for them also served to recruit more Native Americans
from surrounding smaller reservations to the much larger and sparsely
populated Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) reservation after the
war. The Japanese detainees held at the three Poston Camps were used
as laborers to build adobe schools, do experimental farming, and to
construct an irrigation system that could later be used by the Native
Americans thus aiding the settlement of the area as planned by the Office
of Indian Affairs (known today as the Bureau of Indian Affairs).
the Japanese detainees were released in 1945, attention turned to settling
the camps with Native Americans. “Colonists” (as the government
referred to them) from the Hopi and Navajo tribes as well as other tribes
living along the Colorado River tributaries moved into the Camp II barracks
built for the Japanese detainees. The colonists were recruited by the
OIA and lured by promises of fertile farmland and plentiful water. They
joined the Mohave who had lived on the reservation since its creation
in 1865, and the Chemehuevi who arrived shortly after 1865. The colonists
found a working canal system to irrigate farmland, school buildings,
and many other necessities for their relocation. For some from the less
developed areas of other reservations, it was a step up with running
water and a chance to have a farm. For others who had lived in developed
areas in their own homes it was a challenge.
Today, the Colorado River Indian Tribes is comprised
of four tribes — the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo. The
once desolate Parker Valley, in which Poston is located, is a fertile
expanse of thriving farmland. Some buildings and artifacts of the Poston
camps still remain. Some buildings are still in use. Others are neglected
and deteriorating rapidly. That is why CRIT and former Poston detainees
are teaming up to preserve the remaining historical buildings and important
artifacts of Poston.
1992, a memorial monument was erected just south of the Camp I site
to remember the Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived in Poston
as well as those who fought and died in the war. Now efforts are being
made toward funding the renovation of some Camp I buildings to restore
it to its WWII state and to preserve it as a historical site and museum.
The joint preservation effort is to safeguard the civil liberties we
cherish and to honor the memories of those lived in Poston as well as
those who served their country while their families were imprisoned
by the U.S. government.