History of United Tribes And Fort Lincoln
United Tribes has always welcomed interest in the internment period of Fort Lincoln history. Since he became the college president in 1977, Dr. David M. Gipp has met personally with many visitors including former internees, members of their families, and researchers and scholars. He has hosted group tours and promoted scholarship about the period. As the primary steward of the site that was once an internment camp, his aim is to raise awareness about the treatment of groups in America targeted by race and ethnicity, and to help bring about healing for those who suffered unjustly.
“Fort Lincoln represented imprisonment for them,” says Gipp. “It represented a time when their right to freedom was removed. Their families, their dignity and their property was taken, and, in most cases, never returned after they came out of the camps.”
“It is a catharsis for them to come here and see these buildings and this place from the perspective of time, to see the change that has occurred and come to a new understanding in their lives.”
“When we look at oppression, no matter who it happens to or how it’s done, no matter what part of the world, there are people who have something in common. Native people, no matter what the tribe, in dealing with the U.S. government have experienced oppression. We lost our freedoms, we lost our economy, we were put on reservations and we are still faced with overcoming that history. How do we put ourselves back together? How do we get beyond despair to a point of hope? That is the parallel of oppression here. This is what we have in common with the internees and their families. This gives us the ability to connect emotionally.”
“And for those of us here, our students, staff, faculty, and other people in the area, who didn’t know about this part of history, it’s a good lesson to learn what these people went through. Meeting the people who were interned and hearing their stories is not an academic exercise. It means a great deal when you meet them here in a place where it occurred and you see and feel and hear about what they went through.”
In 2003, United Tribes Technical College hosted on campus the opening of “Snow Country Prison,” a traveling exhibit about internment at Fort Lincoln. It was created by the North Dakota Museum of Art with the help of United Tribes and featured large cloth monoliths of internees, photos and text, artifacts, and the haiku poetry of one former Fort Lincoln internee, Itaru Ina. The event included public humanities programs, videos and tours. It was attended by former Fort Lincoln internees, individuals interned in other camps, family members of internees, students and staff of United Tribes, and the public.
The Snow Country Prison event served to formalize the connection between the college and key groups and individuals who had been working to raise awareness about the internment period of history. The result was a partnership that has served to advance information and interpretation about Fort Lincoln and its role in the nation’s Alien Enemy Control Program.In 2010, United Tribes again brought together at the college its partners, along with former internees and family members, to conduct a planning conference to establish a memorial on site. The Fort Lincoln Planning Conference was funded largely by a grant from the National Park Service through the Japanese-American Confinement Sites Grant Program. The careful dialogue and planning successfully identified ideas and goals for developing the internment memorial and for establishing an education and interpretation center in one of the historic buildings on the campus to serve the college and visitors as a place of learning.