Detainees weed the field at Tule Lake Segregation Center in this rare color photograph taken during World War II. Photo from the National Park Service

Tule Lake descendants trump Modoc Tribe's offer for historic land

Japanese Americans held by the federal government in a Tule Lake detention center during World War II and their descendants have more than doubled an offer by the Modoc Indians to buy land beneath the Tule Airport, located on part of the former center.

In a letter sent to Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger on Thursday, Barbara Takei, chief financial officer of the Tule Lake Committee, said the group will pay $40,000 for the property, well over the $17,500 the city negotiated with the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.

The Tulelake City Council voted in favor of the sale to the Modoc Tribe earlier this month and is scheduled to consider the sale following a public hearing at its July 31 meeting. Under terms of the tentative contract, the Modoc Tribe, based in Miami, Okla., will buy the underlying land for $17,500. The contract stipulates the airport will continue to be used as a public airport. Tulelake is located about 26 miles south of Klamath Falls, just south of the Oregon-California state line.

The Tule Lake Committee includes the descendants and increasingly smaller number of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated at the Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center during the World War II years of 1942 to 1946. At its peak, Tule Lake held more than 18,000 Japanese Americans, more than two-thirds of them U.S. citizens.

Several years ago the Tule Lake Committee filed legal action against the city along with Modoc County, which owns the airport, and Macy’s Flying Service, which leases the airport. The suits came after Modoc County announced plans to erect a 3-mile-long, 8-foot-high fence around the airport to prevent possible airplane-wildlife collisions.

In their suits, the committee claims the fence “would desecrate the site” and said the group had been working to a settlement “to protect and preserve the site for future generations.”

Michael Colantuono, the attorney who has represented Tulelake in negotiations with the Modoc Tribe, could not be contacted for comment on whether the city also negotiated with Tule Lake Committee or what might be the result of the group’s recent offer.

In her letter Takei wrote, ”The Tule Lake Committee is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the public interest in protecting the historic integrity and access to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, a National Historic Monument. We are planning to attend the public hearing on the 31st to reiterate our offer to purchase the Tulelake airport land the city of Tulelake is preparing to sell to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. ... We are hopeful the city of Tulelake will consider and accept our offer.”

Takei’s letter also says the committee “seeks to work with all parties, in good faith, to preserve a rare historic property that tells a multi-layered story of the impacts our government’s policies had on the communities of people who lived and died at the Tule Lake site.”

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at or 541-880-4139.

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