On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued an executive order calling for the confinement of enemy aliens - Germans, Italians, and Japanese - with the assurance that no group would. be condemned wholesale. The people of the West Coast adamantly protested the roundup of Germans and Italians, but not of the Japanese who, unlike the others, were not white and were legally barred from naturalized citizenship. Between March and August 1942, the War Department herded 110,000 West Coast Japanese, by birth or ancestry, into barbed wire enclosures.1 The living conditions were execrable. In one camp, for example, the government housed the Japanese in horse stalls. The government impounded the internees' money and paid them in scrip good only at the camps. In a diary of his experiences, a camp resident described the daily horror of being stared at by a steady deluge of visitors - 7,000 in a three month period - as if we were some caged monstrosity."2 This outrage is probably unparalleled in United States history. What occurred on the Pribilofs was a microcosmic repetition.
On June 3 and 4, 1942 the Japanese bombed DutchHarbor and Unalaska. On June 7 Japanese troops landed on the Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu. One week later a U.S. Naval vessel arrived at St. Paul; the captain announced plans for the immediate evacuation of the entire population of both islands. Hastily boarding up their houses and packing the few belongings they were allowed to take, the Pribilof people left their islands two days later, for an unknown destination.
Aleuts from the western and central Aleutians were also evacuated, but that was more clearly for protection than it was on the distant northerly Pribilofs; in fact, the military suggested another motivation for the Pribilof evacuation - the Navy needed the St. Paul houses and facilities.3 The Navy failed to inform the Bureau of Fisheries of the evacuation until it dumped the Aleuts at Funter Bay in southeastern Alaska. Though the Pribilof Aleuts were now 1,500 miles from their home base, the government continued to manage them. 4
at the camps matched those the Japanese-Americans experienced. Funter
Bay on Admirality Island, about sixty miles from Juneau, was the site of an
abandoned cannery in which the
Most of the buildings at the cannery have been unused for 12 years or more and are all dry‑rotted...
All the cooking for the entire village was accomplished on two old stoves, and it was a miracle how the natives could get the meals for some 290 people on such small cooking space...
The Territorial Department of Health officers visited the camps and declared them both very much unsanitary. .
Pipes around the cannery are laid helter skelter on top of the ground, patched with rubber hose, and will soon have to be discontinued on account of cold weather...
All the water for washing clothing is now heated on the cook stove...
Many of the people are sleeping so many in a room that they have to sleep in relays as there is not sufficient room for them to all lay down at the same time in their cramped stuffy quarters - no bunks, no mattresses.5
By September camp accommodations remained unimproved: "Many natives are still sleeping on the floor with only a blanket under them. Others pile all the bedding on the children and wear stocking caps, coats, or anything they have to keep warm at night.6 A month later, the St. Paul agent resigned in protest: "I wish to submit my resignation as agent and caretaker of the Pribilof Islands . . . I feel I cannot stay and watch a people I have grown somewhat attached to . . . through a time of which I sincerely believe only a miracle can prevent a tragedy of sickness and cause extreme suffering to them." 7
A year later a physician's report indicated that the camp situation was even worse:
As we entered the first bunkhouse, the odor of human excreta and waste was so pungent that I could hardly make the grade... The buildings were in total darkness except for a few candies here and there which I considered distinct fire hazards since the partitions between rooms were made mostly by hangings of wool blankets. The overcrowded housing condition is really beyond description since mother and as many as three or four children were found in several beds and two of three children in one bunk.8
The Aleut women expressed their gnawing anguish in a petition to the government.
We the people of this place wants a better place than this to live. This place is no place for a living creature. We drink impure water and then get sick (and) the children's get skin diseases even the grown ups are sick from cold.
We ate from the mess house and it is near the toilet only a few yards away. We eat the filth that is flying around.
We got no place to take a bath and no place to wash our clothes or dry them when it rains. We women are always lugging water up stairs and take turns warming it up and the stove is small.
We live in a room with our children just enough to turn around in; we used blankets for walls, just to live in private. . .
We all have rights to speak for ourselves.9
The persistence of such a state took its toll. For the first time in decades, the Pribilof Aleuts' death rate outstripped the birth rate.10 And we found the first official record of madness among Pribilof Aleuts. 11
What was going on in the Pribilof program to tolerate and condone such human outrage? The Department of Commerce was no longer in charge of the program; administrative responsibility was transferred in 1940 to the newly created Fish and Wildlife Service (a merger of the Bureau of Fisheries and Bureau of Biological Survey) in the Department of Interior. The line of command was similar to that in the past, from the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (based in Chicago during the war years) to the Chief of Alaska Fisheries, to the Seattle-based superintendent, to the agents in the field.
What pressures influenced Pribilof management policy during these war years? For one thing, because of the wartime inflation, the price of seal skins leaped; it nearly doubled between 1939 and 1941.12 Management still gauged its success as it had in the past, on bringing surplus revenues into the Treasury. Furthermore, the military considered marine oils produced on the Pribilofs important to the war effort. With these considerations in mind, Pribilof management adhered to a single goal‑to get the seal show back on the road as quickly as possible.
Several months after the evacuation, Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes sought War Department approval for the resumption of sealing in the 1943 season.
This action (the evacuation) caused great inconvenience and hardship, and resulted in the loss of more than a million dollars by reason of the discontinuance of operations at the Pribilof Islands...
I urge that arrangements be made to return the natives and supervisory personnel by Naval transport to the Pribilof Islands next April or May to resume sealing and other operations.13
Secretary of War Stimson had different priorities:
Occupation of the Pribilof Islands was made possible by using the housing of the former occupants, and insufficient housing exists for both troops and the native population. Furthermore, the return of the native civilians would incur an additional burden on our already overtaxed shipping facilities in that area.14
It is not known why Stimson shortly reversed himself. Less than a month after writing
the above letter, although the Japanese were still in the
The return of the natives - yes - that was critical to the planned resumption of sealing. To this end managers tried to exercise strict control over t;he Aleuts' movements. As the draft threatened to disperse the Aleuts, managers resisted their registration, claiming the exemption on the basis of Aleut, wardship status.
Fisheries Management Supervisor to Pribilof Supervisor, September 8, 1942
Draft board in Juneau is becoming insistant on registration of our natives STOP. Am awaiting your answer to letter July eleventh as to whether instructions issued at islands hold here for no registration account their being wards of Government .16
The draft board dismissed this logic
out of hand and required all eligible
But the draft was only one obstacle
to keeping the Aleut group intact; another was the lure of high‑paying
As stated . . . by Mr. Moores yesterday, we have no definite hold on Pribilof natives who are evacuated to Funter Bay... If they go away from Funter Bay to engage in other work, there is nothing we can do to stop them...
To hold the natives together it is the inion here that an outstanding feature is to develop local work programs at Funter Bay.. 21
Yes, the chief proposed a new tactic; it boiled down to replacing forced confinement with covert means for holding onto the Aleuts.
But this was a stopgap measure. Recognizing
the inevitability of the men eventually leaving the camps for jobs in
It is our desire to keep our native organization as nearly intact as possible.
In placing the men, it is desired that units at any one place be as large as possible. We believe that we can keep better control over the natives if we had 15 men at one location rather than 3 men at each of 5 locations...
As you know, the importation of liquor is not permitted on the Pribilof Islands. Consequently, the more isolated the locations where our men are placed, the easier it will be to control its use
In selecting working units ...Mr. Lee C_ McMillin, for the St. Paul Island natives, and Mr. Benson, for the St. George Island natives should be consulted...
While final decision has not been made as to the method of payment of wages to Pribilof workmen, it is desired that payments be made in a lump sum through the Agents in charge of each island contingent. It is planned to pool the total amount earned in the same manner as we have previously done on the Islands . 22
Apparently shocked at this request,
the Employment Service manager righteously refused: "The
Now it was no longer a question of simple dependence on the Aleuts' skills in the seal industry. Their skills were no longer exclusive. The introduction of blubbering machines in the 1930s rendered that process mechanical and made the skinning process far simpler. The Fish and Wildlife Service recognized the less skilled nature of sealing work when it planned to use natives .from other parts of Alaska for the 1943 sealing season, and after the war when management considered using imported labor for a seasonal operation on the islands. Rather, it seems that managers were reluctant to yield any part of their Pribilof jurisdiction which included control over both seals and the Aleut people.
In any event official policy now
declared Aleuts free to work in southeastern
With these pressures against leaving the camps and with staff keeping close tabs on those who did, the agents succeeded in organizing sealing gangs for the 1943 season. Remember, the plan was to repatriate St. George and take St. Paul sealers to the islands only for the sealing season. The Aleuts objected to the plan. Emboldened by the contacts they made in Juneau, some openly resisted: "The native gang here at Funter wish for me to notify you that they do not want to make the trip to the Islands until the war is over. Some here and one I know in Juneau say they will not return while the war lasts. Others say they will go only if ordered to do so." 27
Only if ordered to do so‑‑why that condition? Because assertiveness does not mean emancipation, and so long as the government controlled access to the islands, the Aleuts had to comply or face banishment. And, indeed, agents threatened to refuse permission to return if they did not comply with the 1943 sealing plan. The superintendent supported this practice:
If any workman remains in Juneau or deserts his post during the summer (he) will forfeit any share of the sealing division. Also I will seriously consider recommending that he be denied return to St. Paul for residence. As St. George is being rehabilitated, any workman who refuses to return this spring will not share in the sealing division and will not be allowed to return at any later date if I can help it. This will include his immediate family.28
In response to the superintendent's report of this action, the Chief of Alaska Fisheries alerted him to the problems such open discrimination was creating at higher levels of the organization.
It is believed... it would be unwise to arrive at a definite, binding conclusion with respect to the problem outlined by you at this time…The question of right to occupancy of the islands by the natives has not been studied exhaustively...
The extent to which the Government is legally obligated to maintain the natives is not defined in any existing law, but rather is a matter for administrative determination by the Secretary and has been handled in the past by policy built up over the years…
Mr. Chaney (legal counsel) is inclined to discourage any thought of bringing this entire matter into the open for legal opinion at the present time. He believes that individual cases should be evaluated and treated separately instead of formulating a decisive, all-inclusive policy which may not hold up under legal assault later.29
The message seems clear enough. Violations of Aleuts' legal rights that no one questioned before were now under scrutiny.
Objections and questions came from an expanding number of sources. In the spring of 1943, agents in Juneau to collect the Aleuts, ran into immediate opposition from the Corps of Engineers:
McMillin in Juneau attempting to organize natives for coming expedition. STOP U.S. Engineers by letter protest withdrawal of Pribilof workmen from defense construction.STOP Many of these men have worked into skilled capacities and engineers say quote crews cannot spare a man at the present unquote. Engineers also verbally advise a protest being filed through official channels .30
Apparently unruffled by this development, the superintendent simply informed the engineers that the Aleuts had been only loaned to them, 31as if negotiating some piece of property.
Never mind defense needs; never mind the wishes of the Aleuts; management's myopic eye was firmly fixed on sealing. According to the Aleuts, agents applied unceasing pressure to convince them to return. As the Aleuts feared further resistance might jeopardize their occupancy rights, they finally acceded, except at first for the St. George people who refused to be repatriated while the Japanese remained in the Aleutians. Management vacillated, first acceding to their demand, then denying it. Their spirit broken, the St. George people also surrendered. The plan was to return the St. George men at the beginning of the sealing season and their families at its end. However, when their wives had a change of heart and refused to return as planned, the St. George men insisted on leaving the islands, and the Bureau acquiesced.
Customarily, management ignored Aleuts' demands, but times were changing. The interest groups to which management had to respond were enlarging and diversifying. Visitors to the camps, appalled at what they saw and learned, increasingly threatened to expose the government's mistreatment of the Aleuts. The assistant supervisor jolted the Fish and Wildlife Service into equating with this reality.
Scarcely a day passes that some well meaning person does not descend upon us with recriminations for our heartless methods. Censorship has kept the press off our necks thus far but this line of defense is weakening rapidly. A few days ago we were advised by one of the physicians who had inspected the camps and aided in emergency work there, that he was preparing a report to the Surgeon General of the U.S. and also to Secretary Ickes and has no intention of "pulling any punches." He warned that it was only a question of time until some publication . . . would get hold of the story and play it up, much to the disadvantage of the Service and the Department of the Interior as a whole. He pointed out that the value of this year's fur seal take from the Pribilofs would nearly equal the original purchase price of Alaska, yet the people who made it possible are being herded into quarters unfit for pigs; denied adequate medical attention; lack of healthful diet and even facilities to keep warm and are virtually prisoners of the Government, though theoretically possessing the status of citizenship. He paints a dark picture but there is plenty of food for thought in his observations and one can easily visualize what a story a sensational publication could make out of the situation...
In considering the entire situation we believe it would be a great advantage to concentrate on and improve the Funter problems rather than to create new ones which would arise in attempting to rehabilitate St. George Island at this time.32
The letter sent a shockwave through the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Chief of Alaska Fisheries reversed policy and assigned top priority to improving conditions at the camps: "I am glad Mr. Hynes wrote this letter as I feel he has drawn the picture correctly, and as a result, further efforts should be made to sharply improve the housing and health conditions of our people at Funter ... it is essential that you make this your number one task.33
It had taken one and a half years after the evacuation for public opinion to force management to improve the camps. But it was nearly too late. Five months later, in May 1944, with the Japanese routed from the Aleutians, the government repatriated St. Paul and St. George Aleuts. The large majority of Pribilovians returned immediately, most because of desire and some because of agents' threats that failure to return would result in loss of their homes or occupancy rights.
The repatriates found their villages in shambles‑looted and damaged. The agent vividly described the scene.
Inspection of St. Paul village disclosed conditions which were difficult to believe... Most of the buildings, including the native houses, bore evidence of having been ransacked... Doors had been left open and windows were broken, and snow drifts were still piled high inside these openings. Snow which had drifted through and melted had flooded the basements of various buildings... Plumbing, water lines and tanks were broken in all parts of the village ...In many buildings losses could be attributed to actual looting or vandalism. Boxes and chests of personal belongings had been opened by prying off locks and other fastenings, and contents were scattered in the search for things of value. Furniture was marred or broken, overstuffed pieces were torn or rendered unserviceable, and household fixtures had been removed or damaged. Warehouses and storerooms showed that there had been complete disregard for the value of stores. . . The carpenter shop did not contain any tools, and a survey of machine shop and garage showed that a large proportion of valuable tools had disappeared.34
As if this weren't shock enough, the Aleuts faced a reversion to pre-evacuation policies as management tried to restore colonial control over them. A first step was to eliminate the Aleuts' assertive and defiant attitudes learned during the evacuation. Even before the repatriation, managers called attention to this need.
Chief of Alaska Fisheries to Superintendent, November 3, 1943
The time has come to deal more severely with those of the Pribilof natives who need such action. In this connection, Dr. Gabrielson (Director, Fish and Wildlife Service) told me that when at Funter in September he learned of how a native refused to obey a reasonable, simple order of Mr. Merriott, or was otherwise impudent, whereupon Mr. Merriott laid hold of him and shook him up, with the result that thereafter he behaved himself. Dr. Gabrielson was very favorably impressed by the action thus taken by Mr. Merriott.35
The St. Paul agent believed these defiant attitudes could be easily corrected after the repatriation.
They have accumulated many ideas and thoughts, many of which are not the best for themselves or for the Bureau. Their attitudes, in many respects, have changed for the worse but it is believed this will all be rectified in short order upon return to the Island.36
Back on the islands, agents took vigorous steps to subdue the Aleuts.
I am not surprised that Mr. Benson has had to jail several of the natives, or even threaten to send some off the islands, in order to quiet them down. . . I think the situation might have been worse following the sojourn of the natives in southeastern Alaska when some of them acquired habits and notions that will take time to eradicate.37
Yes, again protected by the isolation of the islands, management firmly believed that it could restore the former colonial relationship.
In reviewing the few excruciating years of the evacuation, we see that the type of outrage committed against the Japanese‑Americans in World War II was enacted in microcosm against the Pribilof Aleuts, possible in both cases because of pervasive racist attitudes that condone inhumanity when perpetrated on people with colored skins. At Funter Bay, horrendous camp conditions persisted because management, fighting for its survival, kept a single‑minded eye on restoring the seal harvests as quickly as possible‑the conditions of the Aleuts be damned. However, given the pressure of a war against fascism and increasing surveillance by outsiders, management had to make some changes. It sought to change the form rather than the substance of its relationship with the Aleut people by replacing overt, blatant discrimination with more subtle, less visible tactics for control. After the repatriation, when managers felt protected by the isolation of the islands, they renewed efforts to restore the colonial‑type relationship, unaware as they were that, indeed, a new era was dawning in the Pribilofs.
1. Edward H. Spicer, Asaek T. Hansen, Katherine Luomala, Martin K. Opler, Impounded People, Japanese Americans in the Relocation Centers (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969); Roger Daniels, The Decision to Relocate_ the Japanese Americans (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1975).
2. Charles Kikuchi, The Kikuchi Diary, (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1973), p. 157.
3. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, to Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, December 4, 1942. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives and Records Center, Seattle.
4. Funds for the support of the evacuees came from the Supplemental Appropriation Act of December 23, 1941 which provided for the relief and civilian defense of the populations of Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
5. Agent and Caretaker to E.C. Johnston, Superintendent, August 5, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
6. L.C. McMillin, Agent, to E.C. Johnston, September 12, 1942, p. 3., Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
7. Agent and Caretaker to E.C. Johnston, October 7, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
8. N. Berneta Block, M.D., Director, Division of Maternal and Child Health and Crippled Children's Services, Alaska Division of Health, "Report of Trip to Funter Bay, October 2‑6, 1943," Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
9. Petition contained in communication from E.C. Johnston, to Ward T. Bower, Chief of Alaska Fisheries, October 10, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
10. U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Fishery and Fur‑Seal Industries in 1942, p. 41; ... in 1943, p. 42.
11. H.O. Bauer, M.D., to J.P. Eberhardt, M.D., Office of Indian Affairs, November 30, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
12. Computed from Table 28 in George Rogers, An Economic Analysis of the Pribilof Islands, 1870‑1946. Prepared for Indian Claims Commission Docket Nos. 352 and 369 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska, Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1976), p. 128.
14. Henry M. Stimson to Harold L. Ickes, December 4, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
15. Henry M. Stimson to Harold L. Ickes, January 2, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
16. Clarence Olson, Fishery Management Supervisor, to E.C. Johnston, Septernber 8, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
17. Bess O'Neil, Principal Clerk, to Captain Collins, Fish and Wildlife Service, September 26, 1942, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
18. E.C. Johnston to Commanding General, Alaska Defense, November 9, 1943; S.B. Buckner, Jr., Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, to E.C. Johnston, November 9, 1942; S.B. Buckner, Jr., Lieutenant General, U.S. Army, to E.C. Johnston, November 27, 1943, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
19. R.E. Barnes, Acting Director, United States Employment Service, Alaska, to E.C. Johnston, June 29, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
20. E.C. Johnston to Ward T. Bower, Chief, Division of Alaska Fisheries, July 15, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
21. Ward T. Bower to E.C. Johnston, July 31, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
22. E.C. Johnston to R.E. Barnes, July 7, 1942, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives; see also L.C. McMillin, St. Paul agent, to R.E. Barnes, July 13, 1942, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
23. Everett Smith, Local Manager, United States Employment Service, to L.C. McMillin, September 19, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
24. E.C. Johnston to Mrs. Mildred Greenhagen (potential employer in Seattle), November 2, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
25. L.C. McMillin to E.C. Johnston, September 12, 1942. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
27. L.C. McMillin to E.C. Johnston, March 6, 1943, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
28. E.C. Johnston to L.C_ McMillin, March 17, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
29. Ward T. Bower to E.C. Johnston, March 30, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
30. John R. Stacy, Agent, to E.C. Johnston, March 20, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul.
31. E.C. Johnston to James W. Huston, Resident Engineer, U.S. Engineer's Office, Juneau, April 2, 1943, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
32. Frank W. Hynes, Assistant Supervisor, to Ward T. Bower, October 28, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives. 33. Ward T. Bower to E.C. Johnston, November 3, 1943. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives. 34. Clarence Olson, Agent, to E.C. Johnston, June 8, 1944. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives. 35. Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives. 36. "Agent's Annual Report," St. Paul Island, April 1, 1944, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, St. Paul. 37. Ward T. Bower to E.C. Johnston, December 19, 1944, Fish and Wildlife Service Records, Federal Archives.
Chapter 7 - Turning Point, 1945-1960
Table of Contents