Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Henry Miyatake Interview III
Narrator: Henry Miyatake
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 21, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-mhenry-03-0005

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TI: So the physical similarities between the natives in Alaska and the Japanese were very close?

HM: Yes. You know, the story is that we all came through from the, the Asian continent to, through the Bering Straits through Alaska, maybe down the West Coast for the Native American Indians. I mean this is one of the stories that people have. And they look very similar to us.

TI: And was that the reasons, or one of the reasons why they were also evacuated from those towns? Because those towns were still used by the military...

HM: Well --

TI: They weren't, they weren't deserted, they were still used.

HM: Yeah, well in the case of the Aleuts, the military did this as a practice to get them out of there. And I don't know whether they were using military in this vicinity, or any other reason, but they just hauled them out, out of the Aleutian Chain. So a lot of the people, maybe a couple thousand or more got hauled out of there. So their, their lives were completely disrupted, because they're normally fishing type people and they fish during the salmon run season. And then they, and they would hunt also. They were good hunters. And they had rifle equipment and things of this nature. And I guess from the military standpoint, here there's a whole bunch of characters that's running around down in the Aleutian Chain, and they have no ability to control these people. Their, they go out on these boats and, and they're totally independent, you know, what are you gonna do with them? So, I guess their feeling was, well just round them up and put 'em in the canneries. And anyway that, that was the first contact I ever had with these people.

TI: Did you discuss what happened to the Japanese Americans on the West Coast?

HM: Oh, yeah, yeah. I told him about that and he says yeah, they heard about it and they were aware of it. And, well, when I got back to Anchorage that time I told my brother, well I met this family and they're talking about what happened to them. And he said, "Yeah, they, all the way down the chain it was like that," he says. He knew about it, but he never talked to me about it. But that became quite evident that the, the U.S. government had done number of different things that, that I was not aware of. And this became a starting point for saying, well, maybe it was not just Japanese Americans, it's for other groups of individuals. And, well that was first key point. But the other problem later on was when I found out about the people from Latin American countries being thrown into the United States, more or less being kidnapped. But that was one trigger of, maybe the start of things like you know what did they do to all these people, and well, how can we do something to correct it. But --

TI: But on a personal level, how did you feel with that family? Did you feel closer because of that sorta shared experience?

HM: Well, in the CAA, the ground rule is that you can't fraternize with the native population people. And the only reason why this kid was involved was because he became an employee of CAA. And he was doing clean up work and things of this nature and just general administrative functions, general labor type functions. But he was an employee, therefore they treated him a little bit differently. But when you go out to any of these field stations, there is a strict rule, you cannot fraternize with the native population. Because their philosophy is that once you share something with that individual, they could use that item, or any of those items as their property also. It's like a commune system. So you can't afford to have these people want to use the radio equipment that belongs to the FAA or CAA at that time to their own discretion. You can't afford that. So the rule was that you cannot fraternize with these people, socially or otherwise. Don't do, do it. So they had a lot of problems, especially out in the far out stations like Point Barrow and places like that. Where during the summertime when everything was great, when the fishing was great, and the hunting was great, everything was fine. But when, when all the monies were used up for alcohol and other purposes, and they were, they were lacking in food, they would come to the CAA stations and they said, "We're hungry, we want to eat your food." And had there been social fraternization at that point, or previous to that, they felt they were welcome to that food. I mean, because of their commune philosophy.

TI: And so you were told all this, and those were the rules for the CAA at that point --

HM: Yeah, but the exception was made for this guy because he was a CAA employee.

TI: Right, right.

HM: See, so they had allowed his family to come with him for the visit, and he was showing them the facility. And that's when the williwaw started up and they couldn't go home. So --

TI: Well, what I'm curious is you were -- so in a lot of ways, because of the rules you were kept away from the native population. And then this thing happened, this incident happened where by happenstance you're able to learn more about this. I was just curious if it changed your thinking about the native population, the Aleuts, because of this, this very brief incident?

HM: Well, one thing, they looked like, like us. And they treated us very well. And anywhere I went in Alaska, when there were native population, I mean they'd, they'd try to be very friendly with me. Whereas for the Caucasians, they wouldn't treat 'em the same way. So I felt more kinship towards the natives than the Caucasians did. There was some -- well we looked similar, and I was willing to help, go out of my way to help these individuals. But because of the rules, we had some very strong cut off points and maybe because of that I felt a little bit more friendly to those individuals. And well in my brother's case also, when he went out to these different stations these natives would try to befriend him. So it was mutual for all of us. And when I visited the Kimura family, and I told them about this, they says, "Yeah, they always get us mixed up with the natives," you know, that was his statement.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.