• Dedicated to Sharing the Lessons of History

    heart mountain logo

    The Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation (HMWF) was formed in 1996 as a public nonprofit corporation and obtained its federal 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in 1997. Since then, the organization has worked to preserve the site that represents a period in U.S. history following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of them American-born citizens, were deprived of due process and forced to leave their homes and livelihoods to be incarcerated in "Relocation Centers."

    The mission of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is to:

        • Preserve and memorialize the Heart Mountain World War II Japanese American Confinement Site and the stories that symbolize the fragility of democracy;

        • Educate the public about the history of the illegal imprisonment of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain during World War II and its impact on the Big Horn Basin; and

        • Support inquiry, research and outreach to highlight the lessons of the Japanese American confinement and their relevance to the preservation of liberty and civil rights for all Americans today.

    Today, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is overseen by a 15-member Board of Directors led by Shirley Ann Higuchi, a descendant of Heart Mountain incarcerees. The Board includes former internees, descendants, scholars and other local and national professionals from across the country.

    HMWF History

    One of the Foundation's first projects was the restoration of the Honor Roll bearing the names of over 800 men and women who served in the U.S. military, including two recipients of the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor. A replica of the Honor Roll was completed in 2003.

    In 2005, a Walking Tour of the site was dedicated to the memory of Setsuko Saito Higuchi, one of a small but determined group of former Heart Mountain internees who envisioned an educational facility that would preserve and teach the lessons embodied in the wartime experience of the people confined there during World War II. At capacity, 10,767 persons of Japanese ancestry occupied the internment camp, but as many as 14,000 were held at Heart Mountain during the three years it was in operation.

    In 2007, the Wyoming site (located between the towns of Powell and Cody) was designated as a National Historical Landmark. Simultaneously, special recognition was accorded one of Heart Mountain's most well known internees, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Commerce Norman Y. Mineta.

    In August of 2011, the HMWF opened the doors of its Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, a world-class museum dedicated to passing on the Heart Mountain story to future generations. From Wyoming, John Collins, Dave Reetz, Pat Wolfe, Ann Noble, and United States Senator Alan Simpson (retired), former internees and others supported and helped organize the ambitious endeavor. Secretary Mineta was also among the project's early supporters.

    Former Foundation president Dave Reetz supervised construction of the Center which provides an overview of the wartime relocation of Japanese Americans, including the background history of anti-Asian prejudice in America and the factors leading to their enforced relocation and confinement. Program Committee members and Co-Chairs,  University of North Carolina law professor Eric Muller and Denver educator Carolyn Takeshita worked to ensure that special emphasis was given to the experience of incarceration, the diverse personal responses of Japanese Americans to their imprisonment, constitutional issues, violations of civil liberties and civil rights, and the broader issues of race and social justice in America. Funding for the $5.3 million project was overseen by HMWF Vice-Chair, Douglas Nelson and included contributions from individual donors, major government and foundation grants, and corporate gifts.

    Meanwhile, the monumental task of collecting, preserving, and cataloguing the Foundation's burgeoning collection of artifacts continues to be overseen by Acting Curator, LaDonna Zall, with assistance from volunteers and fellow HMWF board member Rick Ewig. Early assistance was also provided by former board members Peggy and Mike Fuson.

    Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki and Farallon Films produced an introductory film that is shown to Interpretive Center visitors, while Split Rock Studios of Minnesota designed and fabricated the exhibits.

    chimeny on a hilltop

    Still standing at the site is the red chimney on a hilltop where the camp hospital was located.Restoration of this historic structure was recently completed to ensure that the chimney remains a fixture of the landscape.

    Photo: Leaders of the HMWF Board at the Leadership Summit in Washington DCLeaders of the HMWF Board at the Leadership Summit in Washington DC. Pictured from left are Shig Yabu, Kathleen Saito Yuille, Douglas Nelson, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Takashi Hoshizaki, HMWF board chair Shirley Ann Higuchi, Eric Muller, Peggy Fuson, and Alan Kumamoto.

    Photo: HMWF board membersHMWF Acting Curator La Donna Zall shows Program Committee co-chair Professor Eric Muller one of the many unique artifacts in the Foundation's growing collection. James Ito (background), a former Heart Mountain internee, views other items in the vault during a recent visit to Wyoming.
                                                     — PHOTO BY BACON SAKATANI
    Photo: Board membersBoard member Rick Ewig (left), Program Committee co-chair Carolyn Takeshita & Fundraising chair Douglas Nelson.
                                                     — PHOTO BY ELLEN ENDO SAKATANI
    Photo: Board membersResearchers William Collier (left) and Samir Kapadia pore over the data that contains detailed information about the World War II internment camp.
                                                     — PHOTO BY ELLEN ENDO SAKATANI


    The mission of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation is to:

          •  Memorialize the place and events that have come to symbolize the fragility of democracy;

          •  Educate the public about the history surrounding the tragic and illegal imprisonment of Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain during World War II; and

          • Support inquiry and research so that future generations understand the still relevant lessons of the Japanese American incarceration experience.

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