Unangax Cemetery At Former WWII Camp May Be Added To Funter Bay Park

May 15, 2019

Martin Stepetin and his wife, Ann, embrace. Stepetin has family members who were relocated from the Pribilof Islands to Funter Bay during World War II.
Credit Lisa Phu/KTOO

Alaska lawmakers are considering expanding a state park to include the historic graves of Unangan people who died during the evacuation of World War II.

After the Japanese bombed Unalaska in 1942, U.S. authorities forcibly evacuated more than 800 Unangax̂ from nine villages in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands ahead of the Japanese advance.

University of Alaska Southeast anthropology associate professor Daniel Monteith told lawmakers last month that 290 residents of St. Paul Island and 190 residents of St. George Island were relocated to southeast Alaska in a makeshift camp on Admiralty Island.

Around 30 marked graves remain near the shores of Funter Bay, which descendants continue to visit.

"I think it's very important in terms of the state of Alaska protecting the Unangax̂ historic cemetery site," Monteith told the House Resources Committee.

More than 1,000 miles away from their ancestral home in the Pribilofs, the Unangax̂ had to make do with few provisions and little heat in a shuttered salmon cannery.

Martin Stepetin told the committee that all four of his grandparents spent the war at Funter Bay in miserable conditions.

"Even my grandma used to say, late into her late 90s, things like, 'I hope it never happens again,'" he said.

Stepetin was testifying in support of House Bill 122, which would expand Funter Bay State Marine Park by about 250 acres to include the historic cemetery.

"The value of protecting the social and historical significance of this land will cement the history for good, and we will never have to repeat this history again," he said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Sara Hannan said the cemetery is already on state-owned land managed by the Department of Natural Resources. But the Juneau Democrat said she wanted to ensure it would remain open to the public by adding it and surrounding lands to the nearby Funter Bay park.

"The descendants of the families who are buried there had some real anxiety about whether they would always have access to be able to visit the graves of their family," said Hannan.

The House passed the bill 29-4 last week. It now moves to the Alaska Senate.