Photo Essay: Minidoka National Historic Site Unveils New Visitor Center

Earlier this month, about 325 people gathered in southeast Idaho for the 17th annual Minidoka Pilgrimage. Over the course of four days, pilgrims learned about the history and legacy of Minidoka through educational programming, tours of the former incarceration site, the invaluable stories of camp survivors, and a lot of intergenerational dialogue and community building.

This year’s pilgrimage also included the soft opening of the new Minidoka National Historic Site Visitor Center, which tells the Minidoka story and currently features an exhibit highlighting the struggles and achievements of the Issei generation. The new visitor center will open to the public in early 2020. For now, enjoy some powerful moments from the 2019 Minidoka Pilgrimage in this guest post by photographer Kayla Isomura.

Mia Russell, Executive Director of Friends of Minidoka, is seen speaking to a crowd of over 300 people at the grand opening of the new visitor centre at the Minidoka National Historic Site on Sunday, July 7 as part of the annual Minidoka Pilgrimage.
Yosh Nakagawa, a Minidoka survivor, speaks at the grand opening in commemoration of the issei (first generation). “If it were not for them, I would not be here today,” he remarked.
Pilgrimage attendees bow their heads in prayer after listening to invocations by Rev. Karen Yokota Love and Rev. Kusonoki respectively.
Minidoka Chief of Interpretation and Education, Hanako Wakatsuki (far left), and other National Park Service staff were among the few hundred people who participated in this year’s pilgrimage.
Nisei (second generation) who attended the grand opening of the visitor centre are seen participating in a ribbon cutting together to conclude the grand opening.
An Issei Memorial Wall commemorates names of 4,000 first generation Japanese immigrants who were incarcerated in Minidoka inside the new visitors centre.
Anna Tamura, who works as a planner with the National Park Service, leads one of many tours offered at the Minidoka National Historic Site as part of the pilgrimage following the grand opening ceremony.
A tour group is seen huddling around the Minidoka Relocation Center Honor Roll, a list of names commemorating those who served in the military.
Inside the former mess hall at Minidoka.
The Last Post is played during the closing ceremony, which also included an honor guard from the American Legion Post #41 from Wendell, ID.
Pilgrimage participants are seen raising their hands after emcee Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda says: “If you raise your arm straight up with me, you could almost feel the souls of those who came before us on your finger tips lifting our spirits up.”
Participants were invited to write prayers, wishes, or names to honor on paper ema to conclude the ceremony. Ema are traditionally wooden plaques used in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples for prayer.

Guest post by Kayla Isomura, a photographer based in Vancouver, Canada on unceded Coast Salish territory. With a background in journalism, her interest in storytelling through multimedia has been heavily influenced from her background as a yonsei (fourth generation) Japanese and Chinese Canadian. In 2018, Kayla produced The Suitcase Project, a multimedia exhibition examining the effects of the Japanese Canadian and American internment and incarceration on younger generations. The Suitcase Project made its debut at the Nikkei National Museum and is currently touring. Learn more about Kayla and her work: www.kaylaisomura.com

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