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Organization sharing Idaho's Japanese American history fundraising with Idaho Gives

Posted at 3:52 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 00:23:26-04

JEROME COUNTY, Idaho — Friends of Minidoka is a nonprofit organization that works to educate the public about the mistreatment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II.

From 1942 to 1945, over 13,000 American citizens and legal residents of Japanese descent were found at the Minidoka War Relocation Center, now known as the Minidoka National Historic Site.

The nonprofit wants to recognize the discrimination many Japanese Americans faced. It says a majority of what is taught about WWII talks about what happened overseas and the economic boom creation in the US.

The National Park Service and Friends of Minidoka say the term "internment camps," which is what these centers are typically called, is misused. Most of the people who were held were American citizens.

“It’s not only a Japanese American story, it’s a story for all Americans and for people worldwide to learn from," said Mia Russell, the executive director of Friends of Minidoka. "It’s one of the most important examples of civil liberties violations in our nation's history.”

This is the fifth year the organization has participated in Idaho Gives. Funding had previously been used to preserve the historic site, but now they are using it to expand educational options and resources like field trips, a documentary with firsthand accounts from survivors, and helping update schools curriculum.

“We have an educational curriculum component that will have four short films also told through the first-hand stories of survivors and study guides for each one of those short films and that will be free online,” said Russell.

Russell added why she thought having more accessible tools in school is so important.

“I grew up in Idaho, I’m of Japanese ancestry and we just don’t learn about this in public schools. It took me going to college, out of state to even learn about the incarceration and I was so surprised to hear that it had happened here in my backyard in Idaho,” Russell said.

The nonprofit works alongside the Minidoka National Historic Park to ensure those who visit and learn about the topic have a sobering experience.

“We want to make sure that it’s preserved and maintained in the best possible way because when that camp survivor does show up with their grandchild, to be able to say this is my American experience," said Kert Ikeda, acting chief of Interpretation and Education of the Minidoka Historic Site.

Park Rangers and Friends of Minidoka both share the same excitement, enthusiasm, and determination to share what happened at the site and making it as accessible as possible.

“Knowing that we have projects in place whether it’s an educational curriculum for both middle school onto high school level students. To be able to continue this learning outside of just coming to this site but to be able to take that learning back into the classroom and vice versa, we recognize that teachers need the curriculum and need that support,” said Ikeda.

Now that resources about this part of the nation's history are becoming more available, students have expressed their shock to learn how close to home all of this place.

“It almost feels hypocritical that we were off fighting in World War Two against the Nazis against these people that were holding these people in concentration camps against their will just because of their race, said Chris Homer, a junior at Idaho Falls High School. "We were doing that here while we were fighting it."

If you are interested in donating to Friends of Minidoka, click here. Idaho Gives ends Thursday at midnight.