"The government and the Bureau of Indian Affairs used us for their ends, for their plans and we were pawns in the hands of the two governmental agencies," Okimoto said.
At its peak, Poston housed 17,000 people, mostly uprooted from the West Coast. The Japanese detainees held at the three Poston camps were used as laborers to build adobe schools, do experimental farming and to construct an irrigation system.
In the film, internees describe the backbreaking work they performed to accomplish the task. When the Japanese were released in 1945, the government carried out its plan to settle the camps with American Indian tribes from the Southwest.
Colonists, as the government referred to them, from the Hopi and Navajo tribes, as well as other tribes living along the Colorado River, moved into the barracks built for the Japanese detainees.
The colonists were recruited by the Office of Indian Affairs and lured by promises of fertile farmland and plentiful water. The new arrivals found a working canal system to irrigate farmland, school buildings and many other necessities for their relocation. For some from the less developed areas of other reservations, it was a step up to have running water and the opportunity to farm. But it remained the product of forced labor by American citizens during World War II.
Dennis Patch, a council member of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, grew up in a house that used to be part of the Japanese barracks. Because American Indian reservations were designed as places where native people had to ask permission before they could leave, Patch called Poston "an internment camp within an internment camp."
"We can identify with mass relocation against our will," he said. "To see another ethnic group brought and lodged there against their will was to me really striking and bewildering."
Patch heard about the Japanese detainees from his parents, grandparents and tribal elders. "They didn't like to see the people suffer that way … because these were men, women and children. They didn't understand it, but they knew it wasn't right. … They had no idea what to do about it; they had no power to do anything about it."
"They built the schools here, they built the roads here, they developed the acreage into fields here, they brought the power down the center of the reservation, Patch said. "So up until that time, we as native people were without running water, restroom facilities, without electricity. From their suffering we gained a lot."
Sosi, the historian, agreed. "Out of this tragedy, we benefited to a great extent. … Their suffering alleviated poverty and other things here on this reservation."
But was the suffering worth it for America? By the end of the war, only 10 people had been convicted of spying for Japan.
And all of them were white.