Handling a Difficult Situation

The United to End Racism team at Tule Lake* handled a difficult situation in which a pilgrimage participant died during one of the weekend activities.

Four of our team were on a hike, organized by the pilgrimage. We and about forty other pilgrimage participants were to visit a historic area at Tule Lake where a group of Modoc Indians, seeking to return to lands taken by the U.S. government, had held off an army of U.S. soldiers for several months. The visit was included in the pilgrimage because of the parallel experiences of racism, discrimination, and resistance in the histories of the Japanese and Native peoples in the Tule Lake area.

On the hike, at virtually the same moment, one elder fell to the ground and another collapsed with what turned out to be a heart attack. Three of our team surrounded the elder who had fallen and helped him get back to the bus. We made jokes and talked to him about his love of fishing, which helped with his feelings about needing help and causing a problem for others.

Our fourth team member and about ten other people were near to the man who had collapsed. That was a much more difficult situation, and the level of panic was high. Soon several hikers from outside the pilgrimage group, who had first-responder training, stopped to help the man. Our team member used her attention to support everyone who was fighting to save the man’s life. She put a hand on the shoulder of those who were panicking, offered words of encouragement, and added firm opinions when someone raised an idea that made sense but others weren’t able to act on. When a hiker with nursing skills joined the group with her three young sons, our team member took care of and listened to the boys so that the nurse could put her full mind on the situation.

When everyone returned to the bus, the four of us continued to listen to people as they faced uncertainty and fear and eventually the shock of learning that the man who had collapsed had died. One of us listened to someone who had tried to revive the man. He talked about how he had never before seen someone die in front of him and also about his father and other family members who had died. We invited him to our evening support group. (He did come, and three of us gave him our attention as he talked more about the day as well as how the Tule Lake incarceration had affected him and his family.) Other leaders of the trip found their way to where we were interspersed with other riders. They appeared to want to be around us because we were still thinking, had attention, and could listen to them as they thought about what needed to happen next.

When the four of us rejoined the rest of our team, we discharged hard. Then we were able to put our minds on the present and to help lead an Intergenerational Dialogue Discussion Facilitator Training of close to forty people.

Throughout that evening and the next few days, every member of our team gave time to family members of the man who had died, those who had worked hard to save him, and others dealing with the loss. Some people came to our support group and workshop; others just reached for hugs, a few words, a few minutes of time.

The pilgrimage leaders handled each aspect of this difficult situation beautifully. Many people gave everything they could, with great intelligence and thoughtfulness. We members of the United to End Racism team acted powerfully, with flexibility and caring.

On Sunday the entire pilgrimage gathered and learned about the death of the man. His family members wrote a letter of appreciation to all of the people who had helped on the previous day. They said that the man had been born at Tule Lake and that he had died there surrounded by people who loved him and who had fought for him with everything they had.


Keith Osajima, Alix Maribo Webb, and Ashley Uyeda

Los Angeles, California, USA (for the 2016 United to End Racism Tule Lake Pilgrimage Team)

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Asians

(Present Time 185, October 2016)

* United to End Racism (a project of the RC Communities) has been sending a delegation to the Tule Lake Pilgrimage—a biannual pilgrimage to the site of the Tule Lake Relocation Center, one of the U.S. internment camps in which thousands of Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00