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Hawaii Internment Camp Monument a Legacy of Akaka, Inouye

Akaka and Inouye led efforts to secure the monument designation. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Akaka and Inouye led efforts to secure the monument designation. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Thursday’s expected announcement from President Barack Obama that the Honouliuli internment camp will become a national monument will bring to fruition an effort that dates to Hawaii’s former senators.  

The process to secure the monument designation began in earnest in 2009, in much the same way many of Hawaii’s federal projects have originated for decades: through inclusion of language in an appropriations bill by the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii. Inouye teamed up with his longtime Senate colleague, former Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, on that effort. Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, then a member of the House, introduced companion legislation across the Rotunda.  

“The detention of more than 1,000 innocent Hawaii civilians during World War II remains a dark chapter in Hawaii and our nation’s history,” Hirono said in a statement. “The stories of those detained at Honouliuli and internment sites like it across the country are sobering reminders of how even leaders of the greatest nation on Earth can succumb to fear and mistrust and perpetuate great injustice.  

“Preserving the site has long been a priority for our Hawaii delegation — from Senators Inouye and Akaka to our current delegation. I will continue to work closely with the administration, state and local leaders as well as my delegation colleagues to ensure federal resources are delivered for this important project,” Hirono said.  

Speaking on the Senate floor on the 60th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 2011, Inouye recalled both his own experiences seeing the Japanese bombers dart across the sky and the subsequent decision to establish internment camps to separate certain populations deemed threatening, including American citizens of Japanese heritage, from their communities.  

“We have an extraordinary Constitution. We have an extraordinary set of laws,” Inouye said. “But throughout the history of mankind, not just the history of the United States, war has always been the justification to leaders to set aside these laws.”  

The Honouliuli camp was the largest internment site and the one in operation for the longest period of time. Other such facilities were scattered across the mainland. The White House said Honouliuli was largely forgotten about for decades until 2002, and with the designation it will be under the stewardship of the National Park Service.  

“This historic site will memorialize the strength and bravery of the many Japanese-Americans who faced discrimination and serve as a reminder to ourselves and future generations that we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. Our deep gratitude goes to the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai’i, the Japanese American Citizens League and others who worked tirelessly for this achievement. It is meaningful and right that Honouliuli has finally received the historic recognition it deserves,” Sen. Brian Schatz said in his own statement.  

The Hawaii Democrat has pushed the National Park Service to finish the study that moved the designation along.  

According to a White House official, Obama will announce the Honouliuli designation and two others under the Antiquities Act on Thursday in Chicago, near the Pullman town site, the home of factories, homes and other facilities associated with the Pullman Palace Car Company. The announcement will also include the designation of Browns Canyon National Monument, a 21,000 acre region in Colorado. That designation was a priority for former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall.  

“Browns Canyon contains a rugged and unique beauty that attracts outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to hike, camp, climb, and raft — all of which help generate millions of dollars for local economies,” Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said in a statement. “We’re grateful to Senator Udall for recognizing this and for his efforts in the Senate to achieve this designation.”  


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