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After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The Executive Order forced the relocation of over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry from their homes and moved them to military concentration camps where they lived for three to four years. Two-thirds of the Japanese were American citizens.


The three Poston camps built on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation served as one of ten camps built in seven states. Between 1942 and 1945, the Poston camps housed over 18,000 Japanese and Japanese American detainees. Poston Camps I, II, and III were unique. The three camps served not only as a place to house thousands of Japanese detainees but the infrastructure created by and for them also served to recruit more Native Americans from surrounding smaller reservations to the much larger and sparsely populated Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) reservation after the war.


The Japanese detainees held at the three Poston Camps were used as laborers to build adobe schools, do experimental farming, and to construct an irrigation system that could later be used by the Native Americans thus aiding the settlement of the area as planned by the Office of Indian Affairs (known today as the Bureau of Indian Affairs).

Poston, Arizona. Leveling the streets with tractors at this War Relocation Authority center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry. PHOTO : FRED CLARK

Japanese-Americans awaiting their release from the Poston War Relocation Center, Arizona, United States, Sep 1945. PHOTO : C. PETER CHEN

When the Japanese detainees were released in 1945, attention turned to settling the camps with Native Americans. “Colonists” (as the government referred to them) from the Hopi and Navajo tribes as well as other tribes living along the Colorado River tributaries moved into the Camp II barracks built for the Japanese detainees. The colonists were recruited by the OIA and lured by promises of fertile farmland and plentiful water. They joined the Mohave who had lived on the reservation since its creation in 1865, and the Chemehuevi who arrived shortly after 1865. The colonists found a working canal system to irrigate farmland, school buildings, and many other necessities for their relocation. For some from the less developed areas of other reservations, it was a step up with running water and a chance to have a farm. For others who had lived in developed areas in their own homes it was a challenge.


Today, the Colorado River Indian Tribes is comprised of four tribes — the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo. The once desolate Parker Valley, in which Poston is located, is a fertile expanse of thriving farmland. Some buildings and artifacts of the Poston camps still remain. Some buildings are still in use. Others are neglected and deteriorating rapidly. That is why CRIT and former Poston detainees are teaming up to preserve the remaining historical buildings and important artifacts of Poston.  

In 1992, a memorial monument was erected just south of the Camp I site to remember the Japanese and Japanese Americans who lived in Poston as well as those who fought and died in the war. Now efforts are being made toward preserving adobe classrooms and the former Library of the Camp I Elementary School site buildings to restore them and to create an interpretive center. In October 2012, this site was designated as a National Historic Landmark. The joint preservation effort is to safeguard the civil liberties we cherish and to honor the memories of those lived in Poston as well as those who served their country while their families were imprisoned by the U.S. government.

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