Our Sacred History is our Ancestral Wisdom. It is in each of us. It is not in a history book or a scholarly article. Look inside and you will see and feel the history within. The history of our people extends for 10,000 plus years – repeat that 10,000 years. Does a history book depict each year? We are a strong, smart, incredible group of people that have changed the world in small, yet big ways. That is our true history. We could go on and on with details of what is said and what is written about our history. What we need to realize today, is that we are changing the story of our people, the Sasignan. Creating change and hope takes strength and perseverance. We’ve pushed forward for 10,000 years – what is stopping us today from continuing our Ancestors and families’ legacies?
The Sasignan people came from Atan am Angatux̂ am Samiyan lands (English: Attu, & Agattu, & Semichi Islands).
Title: Brief History of the Sasignan Story authored by Helena Schmitz & Blanche Murphy
Before the invasion and war, Attu Island was a pleasant Haven (Kohlhoff, 1995). Outside people considered the people of Attu to be happy, progressive, intelligent, friendly, and helpful. In April of 1942 the Attuans were to be evacuated by the U.S. Navy; however, storms had canceled the evacuation. Soon things eerily changed for this small, beautiful group of people. All the villagers knew something bad was going to happen soon and the children didn’t even play before the invasion. “We were having church services in the little Russian Church in Attu on Sunday morning, June 7, 1942, when boats entered the harbor. When the gunboats got closer to the village, we saw that they were Japs. They started machine-gun fire on the village. Some of our boys ran for their rifles to fight the Japs but Mike Hodikoff, our chief said, “Do not shoot, maybe the Americans can save us yet,” Alex Prossoff.
However, the response from the U.S. Government when they heard the news of the invasion was sadly lacking. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes stated: ‘Word came down yesterday that a landing had been made on two of the furthermost and utterly useless islands.’ Attuan’s home island was useless to the U.S. Government and thus, Attuan’s were treated as expendable. The Attuans considered themselves Americans and yet they were abandoned to their fate at the hands of the Japanese without even a token protest from the American government.
On September 14th, 1942, the people of Attu Island, Alaska became prisoners and were taken to Otaru, Japan by the Japanese. Forty Attuans were prisoners for three whole years in a 5-bedroom wooden house. They were slaves forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day in a clay mine and only provided 3 tablespoons of rice each day. Even the children were forced to work in factories. All adults and children were forced Japanese cultural requirements such as learning Japanese. Many suffered from diseases as well as starvation. Families had to watch their babies and children die, helpless to save them. Families and friends watched their loved ones being medically experimented on. Many human rights were violated, and war crimes were committed. The Japanese burned their dead loved ones and returned the bones to the Attuans. The bones were kept inside the shack hoping one day to return the bones to Atu. “We take all our little boxes of dead in one box,” Alex Prossoff. Later when they were carrying their bones back home after the rescue, they were told a lie, “These bones were lost in a storm,” which in other words meant, we don’t want to bother with your loved one’s bones and got rid of them. Words to describe this level of suffering cannot fully explain and demonstrate such pain as they endured.
The U.S. Military removed the Attuans from the Japanese internment camp and then began their long journey home to the U.S. This was not any ordinary trip. This journey from Japan back to Alaska took 16,445 miles. The total travelling these poor people had to endure from the time of captivity was a total of 18,440 miles, with 90% of this from the U.S. Government. Attuans traveled most of it in dire health. Every mile of this trip was spent dreaming of their home where no one disturbed them, and they lived in peace. They wanted to return home to re-build their lives, to refresh their souls, and to re-build their future.
Attuans first landed on U.S. soil in San Francisco. “Someone tell us they will look for our things and they put us on transport boat Brewster for San Francisco. Then I really felt I was going home,” Alex Prossoff. Attuans were told they could not return to Attu. All the homes, tools, buildings and artifacts had been trashed by American soldiers, and unexpended military ordnance was left lying around on the island, rendering it a dangerous place. As a result, Attuans settled in various places ranging from: Bristol Bay, Southeast Alaska, Atka, Southcentral Alaska, and Washington. These places were never truly home. The U.S. Government gave Attuans freedom and took freedom away at the same time. Attuans dreamt of Attu (Atu) as Prisoners of War to survive the internment suffering. They prayed to God to return home – Once this hope was taken away from them many families lost their way. They became lost, hopeless souls, not belonging anywhere.
Copyright Atux̂ Forever: Restoring Attuans’ Freedom 2021 All rights reserved.