Internment Memorial Project
During World War Two, 125,284 men, women, and children of Japanese descent were subjected to years of unjust confinement in prison camps across the United States. One of the camps was a military post at Bismarck, North Dakota, known as Fort Lincoln. *
Underway now at this unfamiliar location on the northern Great Plains is the “Snow Country Prison” memorial project, aimed at bringing some healing to the troubling wartime treatment of Japanese and Japanese American civilians.
Today, the former Fort Lincoln Internment Camp is the campus of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC). ** College administrators and staff have joined with Japanese Americans (including descendants of former internees) to create a memorial on campus to recognize and honor more than 1,100 Issei (first generation) and 750 Nisei (second generation American citizens) who were incarcerated at the camp.
Little Known Role of Fort Lincoln
Fort Lincoln was originally constructed during the first decade of the 20th Century. In 1941, it was converted into a U. S. Dept. of Justice detention facility for the confinement of non-combatant men. First imprisoned behind 10-foot-high fences with guard towers were German merchant seamen and German nationals. In 1942, Issei immigrant community leaders on the West Coast were forcibly separated from their families and removed to the isolation and cold of North Dakota. In 1945, Nisei resisters from Tule Lake Segregation Center in northern California were similarly transferred to what eventually became known as “Snow Country Prison.”
On a government-issued questionnaire, more than 10% of imprisoned Japanese Americans refused to answer, qualified their answers, or defiantly answered “no” to two so-called loyalty questions. The questions sowed division and distrust, forcing an impossible and dehumanizing choice upon Japanese Americans. The “no-no’s” were viewed as disloyal troublemakers, and hundreds were imprisoned in the stockade. Government repression and duress led thousands of disaffected Japanese Americans at Tule Lake to renounce their U.S. citizenship, enabling the Department of Justice to legally intern and deport them as “enemy aliens.”
These Japanese American protesters had been demonized by government propaganda and racist stereotypes. The government suppressed knowledge about an unconstitutional strategy that was knowingly used to denationalize and deport the dissidents. There is little awareness about this chapter of the Japanese internment and the role played by Fort Lincoln Internment Camp.
* Bismarck’s Fort Lincoln is often confused with the first Fort Abraham Lincoln in the area that was decommissioned in 1891. That site is a now a state park located south of Mandan, North Dakota, on the west side of the Missouri River.
** UTTC is a tribal college owned and operated by the five federally recognized indigenous nations in North Dakota: Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Spirit Lake Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Three Affiliated Tribes of the Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Nation, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.