Ninth Circuit affirms dismissal of Tule Lake Committee v. FAA, et al.

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Earlier this month, the Tule Lake Committee lost its appeal in Tule Lake Committee v. FAA, et al. The U.S. Ninth Circuit in San Francisco affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the Committee’s lawsuit that sought to assert a Japanese American voice to preserve a site sacred to our community. The dismissal was a setback for the cause of preserving the Tule Lake concentration camp site.

The Tule Lake Committee is an organization of survivors and descendants of the 27,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned at the Tule Lake concentration camp during WWII.

Tule Lake remains a place of final trauma for the souls of 331 men, women and children who died on the site, whose deaths were caused by deficient medical care, deplorable living conditions, illness and despair. This place of wretched government policy, human suffering and death was never acknowledged nor consecrated. Instead, the government chose to erase an American site of shame by turning it into an airfield.

In TLC v. FAA, the Tule Lake Committee challenged the city of Tulelake’s 2018 decision to sell 359 acres of concentration camp lands to the Modoc Nation, headquartered in Oklahoma, for $17,500, or $49 per acre. (To put the sale price into perspective, in 2020, the Tribe purchased an adjacent 144-acre parcel of concentration camp land for $350,000, paying $2,743 per acre.)

The case was dismissed in 2020 by U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb of the Eastern District of California. Judge Shubb dismissed the FAA as a party to the case, then dismissed our case for lack of jurisdiction.

A three-judge appellate panel (Ninth Circuit judges Connie Callahan and Patrick Bumatay and Arizona District Judge Susan Bolton) affirmed Judge Shubb’s dismissal of our claims, a decision that denied Japanese Americans a voice in the disposition and treatment of Tule Lake concentration camp lands. The panel ruled the Tule Lake Committee lacked jurisdiction to assert a claim.

The dismissal of our appeal in TLC v. FAA concludes our four and a half years of litigation in federal court, challenging the city of Tulelake’s decision to give the former Tule Lake concentration camp site to the Oklahoma Modoc. The Oklahoma-based Tribe is a sovereign entity that promised to develop “aviation-supportive businesses” at the airfield site and opposed Native American water rights in the Klamath region.

The Tule Lake Committee will continue litigation in state court and has filed an appeal in Tule Lake Committee v. Follis. That state court case challenges ownership of a public airport by a sovereign entity that argues that it cannot be sued in state or federal court.

We are grateful to our pro bono legal team of Mark Merin, Yoshinori “Toso” Himel, and Tule Lake descendant Paul Masuhara, who are carrying on the fight to protect the Tule

Lake civil rights site.

Stay tuned.

Barbara Takei is a board member of the Tule Lake Committee. For more information, visit www.tulelake.org. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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