The Camp Now…
This is a photo of the monument found on a hill in the Butte Camp portion of the former Gila River WRA Camp. [Source: Unknown]
Consistent with its general practice, the Gila River Indian Community withheld permission from me to visit the site of the former WRA Camp and to take photos for this blog. Although I at first received written approval for a visit, when someone higher up realized that I would be taking photos for the blog, I was required to apply for a media permit and was subsequently turned down and refused the chance to visit.
Respecting their decision, I only visited the Huhugam Heritage Center, taking no pictures. I did not go out to any of the former WRA Camp locations.
Given the historic offense of forcing the WRA Camp upon the Indian Community, I understand their apparent reluctance to open the former Camp site to most visitors. The primary exception to their policy is for former internees or their families.
One consequence of their exclusionary policy is that a major opportunity is lost.. The Gila River Indian Community is on the edge of Phoenix, Arizona, only minutes from the Sky Harbor International Airport.
The Community has created an utterly beautiful Huhugam Heritage Center. The Community describes it this way: “On January 24, 2004, the Gila River Indian Community opened arguably the nation’s finest tribal facility for the preservation and display of important cultural artifacts and art.” The Center serves as: “a climate-controlled repository for prehistoric and historic artifacts, cultural materials and vital records…; a museum to display these materials to the public…; a center for research by tribal members…; and, a space to exhibit traveling art and history shows…”
The Huhugam Center lives in the midst of an obviously thriving Gila River Indian Community economy. The Community receives thousands of visitors each year to its hotels, golf courses, businesses, and historical/cultural resources.
Lost is the chance to more fully educate visitors about injustice and resilience. There was a double injustice perpetrated in the creation of the Gila River WRA Camp: the imposition of the camp upon the Community, over the objections of the community leaders; and, the imprisonment of thousands of Japanese Americans in the Camp, without Constitutionally required due process. Beyond this injustice, both peoples have profound stories of resilience to share.
My hope is that the Gila River Indian Community will eventually work with the interested Japanese American groups to carefully build a visitors center that will display this chapter of history.
That’s Gila River for now. Next stop is the Poston WRA Camp.
Thanks for coming with me on the journey!