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