When they hear rumbling coming from the direction of Dutch Harbor, Kiska's father and uncle believe a storm is coming. But the storm that comes is unlike any they or their people have ever endured.
Kiska attempts to tackle the difficult subject of the forced internment of the indigenous people, the Aleuts of the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The Aleutian Islands which were part of the Alaska Territory in 1942 were considered an important strategic location, offering whoever controlled them, domination over the Pacific. If they were captured by the Japanese, the Aleutians would provide a base for attacking the West Coast of North America.
On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor, where the Americans had a military installation. returning on June 4 to continue more successful bombing of the town. The Japanese then invaded the islands of Kiska on June 6 and Attu on June 7. There was little resistance from the indigenous Aleuts. In light of the invasion of Kiska the U.S. government offered to evacuate the Aleuts from Attu but they declined. When the Japanese invaded the Aleuts were imprisoned and eventually transported to an internment camp in Japan for the duration of the war.
Fearing that the rest of the Aleutian Islands would be invaded the United States ordered the evacuation of the remaining Aleutian and Pribilof Islands. A total of 885 Aleuts were removed. They had little time to gather personal possessions nor clean and lock up their homes. Although the U.S. Government had begun discussions to plan for the evacuation, it happened suddenly, leaving the government struggling to find locations to house the Aleut. The Aleut were eventually placed in abandoned canneries and warehouses at five locations including Funter Bay as mentioned in the novel.
Conditions in the U.S. internment camps were horrible. Like their indigenous brothers and sisters throughout the North American continent, the Aleuts had little resistance to European diseases such a measles and small pox. Unsanitary living conditions, subpar housing and poor food contributed to the deaths of many young and elderly Aleutians.
Unfortunately, what could have been a very informative novel, in fact contains some serious historical errors. The main character, now a grandmother is relating what happened long ago, to her granddaughter. She tells her after boarding the ship, the U.S.Army Transport Delarof, "Over the next week or longer, we stopped at seven more Aleut villages, including St. George and St. Paul on the Pribilof Islands...In all there were 881 of us from nine different villages crowded into the ship's dingy hold. " In fact, the Delarof did not transport all of the Aleut evacuees in one trip; the Delarof evacuated on residents of St. George and St. Paul before sailing to Dutch Harbor where villagers from Atka also boarded.And one hundred and ninety Aleuts from St. George were sent to Funter Bay.
|World War II Aleutian Islands Resettlement Routes from Charles M. Mobley|
Readers may find the following resources useful:
World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska by Charles M. Mobley
Chapter 2 Funter Bay Cannery from Mobley's publication
Alaskaweb.org also has a detailed article on what happened to the Aleut people during World War II.
Kiska by John Smelcer
Fredonia, New York: Leapfrog Press 2017