The Tule Lake Committee held its 20th pilgrimage to the site of the Tule Lake Segregation Center over the Fourth of July weekend last month. The pilgrimage is the biennial, four day event to connect pilgrims with the historic Tule Lake Segregation Center and its turbulent and complicated history. There were over 350 participants who made the journey from across the United States and Japan.
Pilgrims traveled on buses departing from west coast cities: San Francisco, San Jose, Union City, Sacramento, Berkeley, Seattle, Olympia, Portland, and Eugene. The bus ride is an integral part of the pilgrimage, where pilgrims create a community that reflects on the experience of those who were forced from their homes on the west coast in 1942, and imprisoned in 10 War Relocation Authority camps and other detention facilities in remote areas located all over the United States, including Tule Lake.
The theme of this year’s pilgrimage was “Criminalizing Dissent: The Tule Lake Jail”—a focus on segregation and the 12,000 dissidents who were branded as “disloyal” and imprisoned at the maximum-security Tule Lake Segregation Center. Dissent became a crime that led to a lifetime of stigma, a stigma that, to this day, is still felt within the community, according to the Tule Lake Committee. The goal of the Tule Lake Pilgrimage is to lift that stigma, validate the experience of those who dissented, and create an environment where understanding, acceptance, and healing can take place.
Pilgrims were able to view documentaries including: Cats of Mirikitani, From a Silk Cocoon, Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien, and A Flicker in Eternity. Many participated in the Castle Rock hike; the oldest person to summit was 84 years old, a teenager when incarcerated at Tule Lake.
The Tule Lake Committee and the National Park Service worked together to offer pilgrimage participants two separate options for tours of the historic site. Tour buses staffed by the National Park Service rangers and volunteers visited a latrine foundation, jail, California State Historic Site marker, and Camp Tulelake where interpretive presentations were given. At the jail, pilgrims were greeted by Jimi Yamaichi, who spoke about the Army stockade and the jail’s construction. At Camp Tulelake, the Tanimoto brothers recalled their detention after their housing block protested the loyalty questionanaire. The other tour was collaboratively conducted by Cultural Resource Manager Jessica Middleton and TLC’s Barbara Takei, and focused on historic use, significance, and potential future uses for the National Historical Landmark area and existing structures. This included the carpenter shop, stockade, and two motor pool buildings.
At the invitation of the Tule Lake Committee, members of the local community attended activities at the Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds and the Tule Lake Pilgrimage cultural program at the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
This year’s keynote speaker was Wayne Merrill Collins, son of the late Wayne Mortimer Collins, who was recognized by Tule Lake’s segregants as a passionate defender of Japanese American civil rights. Collins spoke of the government’s forced removal and wartime incarceration program as the source of duress that led thousands of U.S. citizens to give up their citizenship, and of his father’s 20-year fight to help thousands of Japanese Americans reverse the damage done to them by this unprecedented denationalization and deportation program.
The National Park Service described the 2014 Tule Lake Pilgrimage as a powerful and healing event that reflected on the injustice of the wartime incarceration and honored individuals
who suffered a lifetime of humiliation and stigma.
The National Park Service’s Tule Lake Unit is open year round and offers tours on Saturdays in the summer. Call us in advance to schedule a ranger led tour for other times. For more information, call (530) 260-0537.