A Faith Forged by Common Struggles


Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe seen here making an incense offering during the memorial service at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage.  (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe seen here making an incense offering during the memorial service at the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)


By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

At the Tule Lake Pilgrimage interfaith memorial service this year, members from different tribes offered incense in solidarity of a shared history.

Dakota Tribe

Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage.

“We have been looking forward to this for months,” said Gwen. “We felt we have a common experience and that we might be able to learn about the healing process in this (Japanese American) community and take away something that might help our community.”

“We wanted to hear other people talk about their history,” said Glenn. “We are Dakota people, and we have a brutal history. And even though we know what had happened, we don’t want to keep talking about it. We want to come up with an answer so we can heal from all the things that have happened and continue from here….We wanted to come here because we had heard people try to come up with answers here.”

What surprised Gwen, however, was the positive energy at the pilgrimage.

“I didn’t expect there to be so much happiness and laughter and sharing of good feelings,” aid Gwen. “I thought it was going to be very somber. And it had its somber moments but it was like a big family reunion, and we were able to be a part of it, so it’s been an amazing experience.”

Glenn said he was comforted to meet people who were not afraid to be honest with their feelings.

“We met some people who understand crying, hurt, anger, fear,” he said. “They understand what those really mean. We try to talk to other people, but they say those are signs of weakness. They don’t understand, but here, there was a lot of that, and we understood where that was coming from, and we got to meet other people that really understood what those emotions mean. That made us feel better and gave us some encouragement.”

According to Glenn, many youths in their tribe are no longer interested in learning about their history.

“The young people are tired of hearing about the genocide, the killing and the executions,” said Glenn. “So we need to develop a way to describe what had happened so they can understand it and be proud of who they are…

“We’re here to go away with a different language, and we heard some of that already. We want to talk about restoring our history. Our history isn’t filled with all negative things. There are a lot of positives so we want to restore this in its proper way. Then we want to honor who we are, honor who the Dakota people were a long time ago.”

Modoc, Klamath, Paiute, Yahooskin

Laurel Robinson is a member of the Modoc/Klamath tribe.

The Klamath Basin is home to three tribes, the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskins, although Robinson noted that the Yahooskins would prefer to be recognized as Pauites.

This is Robinson’s second full pilgrimage experience, but she has been attending the community cultural program at the Ross Ragland Theater in Klamath Falls, Ore. for several years.

For Robinson, the pilgrimage “feels like a sisterhood because we went through the same thing.”

Robinson became connected with Tule Lake through Misa Joo, who had been involved with Robinson’s father’s movement to retain his ancestral land during the 1970s.

Robinson’s father, Edison Chiloquin, a World War II veteran, made international headlines in 1974 when he refused a $273,000 payment from the federal government in exchange for his property and instead insisted on ownership to his ancestral land.

Joo, a University of Oregon student at the time, said Chiloquin had visited the campus in an effort to garner student support. When the students were not lobbying, Joo recalled fond memories of camping out with groups of students at the tribal village.

“We’d always go back to Edison, and he’d play the guitar and he would sing, and they would sing,” recalled Joo. “It was a nice, great time.”

Joo noted that although Chiloquin had served in the Pacific during World War II, he did not harbor animosity towards the Japanese or the Japanese Americans.

“When he first came home, he may have had a little,” said Robinson. “But he didn’t hold onto that feeling that some people do. He understood that it was the governments fighting, not the people.”

On Dec. 5, 1980, after years of campaigning, Congress passed the Chiloquin Act, signing over the title of the land to Chiloquin.


Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota Tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Glenn and Gwen Westerman Wasicuna are members of the Dakota Tribe. They had flown in from Minnesota to attend their first Tule Lake Pilgrimage. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)