Descendants of two government-sanctioned atrocities gather in Colorado, bond over “shared identity”

Relatives of Japanese Americans incarcerated in Amache find common threads with descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre — which occurred just 46 miles away — during annual pilgrimage

GRANADA — Mitch Homma stood on the weathered concrete slab that is all that remains of the barracks where his father and his grandparents lived 80 years ago inside the barbed wire of the Granada Relocation Center, a euphemism later shortened to Camp Amache to designate one of 10 incarceration camps for Japanese Americans hastily erected in the wake of the 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In one hand, Homma held an old photograph of three siblings — Hisao Homma, the young boy who’d become his father, in the middle — posing next to a scrawny sapling. With the other, he pointed to the thick, towering trunk rising just a few feet away, leafed out in the warmth of a southeastern Colorado spring.

“That,” he said, “is this tree.”

On the weekend before Memorial Day, the annual window for Amache survivors, descendants and their supporters to make their pilgrimage to the site, the theme of enduring flora permeated a Saturday of steady traffic through the historic grounds. Visitors heard lessons about the trees that now tower above the cactus, coarse prairie grass and low brush on the choppy landscape, where a square-mile grid of stubborn foundations hints that more than 10,000 people cycled through the facility after being uprooted from their mostly California homes.

But while Amache closed after about three years and its buildings dissolved into the swirl of history, the trees still bear witness — as does a wild, so-called “Amache rose” that improbably took root in the inhospitable soil and, even more improbably, continues to bloom in a closely guarded location all these years later.

The “Amache Rose” begins to blossom on Saturday, May 20, 2023, at the former incarceration camp that operated from 1942 to 1945. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Also bearing witness Saturday were the pilgrims, who this year arrived in unusually large numbers —  about 250 strong, buoyed by the camp’s designation as a National Historic Site, which brings federal resources and oversight to what for decades has been a volunteer labor of love.

But this year, another theme emerged. Mingling among the Amache descendants, Dale and Bobbie Hamilton, with their 9-year-old daughter Nya tagging along, listened closely to the windswept land and its stewards telling their tragic story. They are descendants of Cheyenne and Arapaho victims of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre, which unfolded 46 miles away on a site that also features “witness trees,” as the oldest are known.


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