3 Replies Latest reply on Jun 28, 2021 9:07 PM by R G

    Why was there internment of Aleut people during WWII?

    Stephen Salgaller Newbie

      As i understand it, about 1,000 Aleut Native Americans were evacuated from rural Alaska [I understand this part]; the Aleutian Islands were likely to be over run by the Japanese - BUT they were then interned in "relocation" camps during WWII, 1942-1945 --- please explain this part. They were loyal citizens and/or not a threat to our war effort. Why not ask them to volunteer - help with the war effort - catch or process fish, for example?

        • Re: Why was there internment of Aleut people during WWII?
          Elliot Schneider Guide



          Here is some information that might provide you with some insight.


          The Aleutian World War II National Historic site, maintained by the NPS, has some introductory and bibliographical information on the evacuation and internment of Aleutians beginning in 1942. One text by Charles Mobley, entitled World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska, is an archaeological report that explores the war's impact on the local Aleut community, continuing through the evacuation procedures, and evaluating its status as a historic site. Both links will take you to the NPS website and PDF version of Mobley's report:






          The NPS also lists the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association as another resource on Aleutian internment. This association works with the Unangan people in the region through different economic and community programs; one of which is the cultural heritage and history. The association retains Aleutian documents and photographs relating to the evacuation and internment and they can be contacted for further information below:



          • Re: Why was there internment of Aleut people during WWII?
            Carey Stumm Adventurer

            Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


            Records regarding the creation of the policies that led to Japanese internment might provide some insight into why the Aleut Native Americans were interned in these camps. These records can be found at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, which can be contacted via email at Archives.FDR@nara.gov. The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum also has materials on this topic, and can be contacted via email at truman.reference@nara.gov. The War Relocation Authority (WRA) was a United States government agency established to handle the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The majority of the Records of the War Relocation Authority (Record Group 210) are in the custody of the National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1), which can be contacted via email at Archives1reference@nara.gov. The War Department Western Defense Command was also involved with the removal of Japanese Americans. These records are included in the Records of U.S. Army Defense Commands (World War II) (Record Group 499). Some of Record Group 499 records  are in the custody of RDT1, while others are in the custody of National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2). Please contact RDT2 via email at Archives2reference@nara.gov.


            Keep in mind that due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from the presidential libraries and from RDT1 and RDT2. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.


            You may be interested in the following online resources on this topic:



            We hope this information is helpful. Best of luck with your research!

            • Re: Why was there internment of Aleut people during WWII?
              R G Wayfarer

              The Aleut internment in relocation camps with such poor conditions came as a result of  the Department of the Interior and militarys failure to corrdinate, government practicality, and, while not as prominent when compared to the Japanese internment, racial discrimination.


              Leading up to the relocation there were several discussions between the agencies that had oversight over the Aleut. In January 1942 the Navy contacted the Division of Territories, a branch of the Interior Department, saying:

              "It is felt that the evacuation of all white women and children from Unalaska would be to the best interest of the present military situation."

              The Army agreed with this; additionally recommending that the Aleut woman and children also be removed and that the Navy and Army coordinate with the Territorial Governor, an office within the Division of Territories.


              In a meeting in March of 1942 between several civilian agencies the consensus was that moving native populations should an attack occur would do them more harm than good as they believed the natives would not be able to adapt to new environments. This meeting however contained no military representation and so they concluded more meetings would be required to coordinate with the military. In later communications Interior Department officials still did not want to forcibly remove the Aleut; There was however some division within its several branches. The Navy, not wanting responsibility, decided to place the decision on the Office of Indian Affairs (OIA), one of the Interior Department branches. In April the commissioner of the OIA noted to the Secretary of the Interior that the Navy said that they would not protect villages west of the military installations in Dutch Harbor, which left the Aleut who inhabited islands past that point exposed, and the Interior Department could be criticized if the Aleut were harmed. By then some Aleut on Unalaska had shown they were willing to relocate however still no Aleut were evacuated as the military, the Territory Governors' office, which was another Interior Department branch, and the OIA, could not come to a consensus on if any Aleut should be moved. The OIA, who had the decision placed on them by the Navy, attempted to reflect the responsibility back on the Navy by choosing not to relocate the Aleut unless the Navy said it was necessary. This was approved by the Secretary of the Interior, although he did stipulate that the Aleut be moved if they wanted to be, and was the plan in place even past the Japanese attack which began on June 3rd. The day after the attack, June 4th, the Territorial Governor wrote to The Secretary of the Interior trying to ensure that the Aleut would not be forcefully evacuated. He wanted a clear plan in place should an evacuation occur, and asked that the Aleut be properly explained their options by an OIA representative. He also mentioned that the OIA, who had previously taken the stance that the Aleut should stay, had now flipped to saying they had wanted an evacuation the whole time, and the Army, who were the first to mention evacuating the Aleut, now no longer felt that it was necessary. The Secretary responded on June 17th agreeing with the Governor but by then the Aleut had already been evacuated with no proper relocation plan. These failures to coordinate would continue throughout the war in regards to the Aleut and the Aleut could not seek outside support due to communication blackouts. 


              As for government practicality, the evacuation in the end occured because the Navy wanted to employ a scorched Earth policy on the islands if they got attacked which required the Aleut be relocated regardless of a plan. Short notice of the evacuation did not allow the Aleut to properly gather supplies and in the case of St. Paul medical supplies that had been on the island were taken from them to supply a military hospital instead of the relocation sites. The relocation sites, hastily chosen, were to be places that the Aleut could sustain themselves. The Aleut were not allowed to return for years after the Japanese had been pushed out of the area partially because the military was using the Aleut's homes for their troops.


              Finally the aspect that has and continues to affect policy regarding Native Americans, race. A few examples: The Navy initially suggested only the evacuation of white people. Some officials against the evacuation reasoned that natives would not be able to adapt to a new environment or would be able to escape their villages and live primitively in the wilderness if attacked. In Unalaska confusingly only the Aleut were evacuated, an Aleut woman and her white husband were separated. The Fish and Wildlife (FWS) doctor who had been on St George stopped attending patients once they were evacuated off the island. The OIA teacher in Burnett Inlet reported that everyone was being fed properly and downplayed a complaint that got out by one of the Aleut women that lived there. And simply dehumanizing negligence that allowed the poor conditions to continue for so long despite reports of how bad they were. Some Aleut were not allowed to return to their original islands as the government believed the cost was too high to move them back and to this day remain uninhabited.

              While several of these examples occured after the relocation had already happened it does speak to the negative view the government often had regarding the Aleut during that time.


              You asked why the Aleut, being loyal citizens, were not asked to contribute to the war effort but in fact they were asked and sometimes forced to contribute. The men that were eligible were required to register for the draft. The Aleut sought jobs near the relocation sites. Some, not wanting to suffer in the living conditions being provided, went to larger cities such as Jeanue and Seattle, although the entire family did not always move. In Burnett Inlet the Aleut reconditioned the canning facilities but were given minimal supplies and were not paid. In Killisnoo men found jobs repairing boats for the government, working for the forestry department, in construction and in canneries.  By fall 1942 some 100 Pribilof Aleut men and their families had left Funter Bay. In November 1942 however the FWS, which oversought the sealing season in the Pribilofs, asked the military to allow it to resume sealing the next year as it provided massive profits to the government. By the time the sealing season was to begin in 1943 many Aleut had already left to better jobs outside the camp, been drafted, or simply did not want to return to the islands for their own safety. The FWS, not wanting a shortage of workers, sought deferments from the draft and furloughs for those that had been drafted for the season. Additionally they said that any Aleut seal worker that did not return for the seal hunt would not be allowed to return to the islands upon the conclusion of the war. While this was not an official stance that they felt would stand up legally and there was some conflict within the FWS about it the Aleut when later being interviewed did say they felt compelled to return.


              I was just researching this and your post popped up in the Google search results so figured I would share what I found since it was posted relatively recently. It is primarily summarized from "Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians": https://www.archives.gov/files/research/japanese-americans/justice-denied/aleuts-page-317.pdf

              Further details could also be found in the commission's hearings:


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