By Dakota Russell, Executive Director, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation held its quarterly board meeting at the Japanese American National Museum on Oct. 18 and 19. Topics included HMWF’s accomplishments in 2018 and its plans for the future. In the days following the meeting, the foundation’s board members also attended a meeting of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium and hosted a gathering to reach out to new supporters.
Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi opened the meeting with an anecdote about her arrival in Los Angeles last week.
“I got into my Uber,” Higuchi said, “and started chatting with the driver. I told him I was going to this meeting. It turned out that even though he had grown up in L.A., he knew nothing about the JA incarceration experience. My goal is that the next time I step into my Uber, that driver won’t say, ‘I’ve never heard this story before.’”
The board reviewed HMWF’s eventful year. In May, the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, the foundation’s museum near Powell, Wyo., opened an exhibit of works created in the camp by artist Estelle Ishigo. The exhibit includes 10 watercolors, on loan to the foundation from the Japanese American National Museum, that otherwise would have been auctioned to private collectors without the intervention of the foundation and other concerned groups. Also in May, HMWF began restoration of a root cellar, measuring more than 300 feet long, that was built at the site by incarcerated Japanese Americans.
Two Heart Mountain board members received national awards this year and were recognized at the meeting. Higuchi was honored by the Constitutional Accountability Center for her work with the foundation and participated as part of a panel session titled “A Decade of Progress, A Charge for the Future” in October. Sam Mihara, who travels the country speaking about his incarceration at Heart Mountain, was awarded the Paul A. Gagnon Prize from the National Council for History Education. The Gagnon Prize recognizes individuals who have made a significant contribution to the promotion of history education.
Conversation during the meeting also turned to future plans for Heart Mountain. Attendees discussed both the further development of the site and the need to introduce the Heart Mountain story to a wider audience.
The board also voted to appoint Dakota Russell, who has been serving as the foundation’s interim executive director since May, to the executive director position.
“We have the best staff and board right now that an organization could hope for,” Russell said at the meeting, “and we have a responsibility to be ambitious about utilizing those talents to help us achieve our goals.”
For the past three years, the HMWF has taken a lead role in the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium. The board reviewed the extraordinary level of cooperation between organizations the Consortium has fostered, as well as talked about the need to make it sustainable and productive for the future. Also discussed were Heart Mountain’s plans for greater outreach into mass media, beginning with the publication of a book by Higuchi next fall.
On Oct. 20 and 21, Heart Mountain board members attended a meeting of the Confinement Sites Consortium, where they networked with representatives from other organizations and shared the progress the foundation has made.
On Sunday evening, the Heart Mountain board hosted a gathering at the historic home of filmmaker and news anchor David Ono, inviting a number of writers, actors, producers and filmmakers to join them.
Together, they discussed the timeliness of the incarceration story and how it could resonate with modern audiences. A highlight of the evening was a heartfelt reading by Higuchi from her upcoming book of her memoirs and the stories of several key Heart Mountain characters from prewar immigration, World War II incarceration and up until the present day.
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation preserves the site of the World War II-era Japanese American concentration camp in Wyoming and works to educate the public on this important chapter in American history. The foundation’s 18-member board includes former incarcerees from the camp, their descendants and their allies.
The Heart Mountain Pilgrimage will be on July 26-27, 2019. #HMPilgrimage2019