Unangax̂ cemetery at former WWII internment camp may be added to Funter Bay park

Martin Stepetin and wife Ann embrace when Martin breaks down in tears. Originally from St. Paul, Stepetin has family members who were interned in Funter Bay, 50 miles north of Killisnoo.
Martin Stepetin and wife Ann embrace at a 2014 memorial in Killisnoo for Aleut people displaced during World War II. Stepetin has family members who were interned in Funter Bay, 50 miles north of Killisnoo. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Alaska lawmakers are considering expanding a state park to include historic graves of Unangax̂ people who were among those who died in World War II internment camps.

After the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor in 1942, U.S. authorities forcibly evacuated more than 800 Unangax̂ people from nine villages in the remote western islands ahead of the Japanese advance.

University of Alaska Southeast anthropology associate professor Daniel Monteith told lawmakers last month that 290 islanders from St. Paul and 190 islanders from St. George were relocated to Southeast Alaska and interned in a makeshift camp on Admiralty Island.

Around 30 marked graves remain near the shores of Funter Bay, which descendants continue to visit.

“I think it’s very important in terms of the state of Alaska protecting the Unangax̂ historic cemetery site,” Monteith told the House Resources Committee.

More than a thousand miles away from the islanders’ ancestral home in the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, the villagers had to make do with few provisions and little heat in a shuttered salmon cannery on Funter Bay.

Martin Stepetin told the House Resources Committee back in April that all four of his grandparents spent the war at Funter Bay in miserable conditions.

A Russian Orthodox grave marker of an Atka villager in the Killisnoo cemetery.
A Russian Orthodox grave marker of an Atka villager in the Killisnoo cemetery. A different cemetery in Funter Bay could receive more protection through a bill proposed in the Alaska House of Representatives. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Even my grandma used to say, late into her late 90s, used to say things like, ‘I hope it never happens again,’” Stepetin said.

He was testifying in support of House Bill 122 that would expand Funter Bay State Marine Park by about 250 acres to include this historic cemetery.

“The value of protecting the social and historical significance of this land will cement the history for good, and we will never have to repeat this history again,” Stepetin said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Sara Hannan said the cemetery is already on state-owned land managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

But the Juneau Democrat said she wanted to ensure it would remain open to the public by adding it and surrounding lands to the nearby Funter Bay park.

The descendants of the families who are buried there had some real anxiety about whether they would always have access to be able to visit the graves of their family,” she told CoastAlaska.

The House passed the bill 29-4 last week. It now moves to the Alaska Senate.

Editor’s note: The photo captions in this story have been updated to clarify that the photos were taken at a different cemetery than the cemetery indicated in HB 122.

Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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