Shirley Ann Higuchi of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Deni Mineta, widow of Norman Mineta, former Sen. Alan Simpson, Rep. Liz Cheney and her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, were among the dignitaries to break ground on the Mineta-Simpson Institute during the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage on  July 30.


It seemed as if the canopy covering the site of the groundbreaking for the Mineta-Simpson Institute at Heart Mountain could not hold any more people as the members of the families of Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson jammed together on July 30.

They had convened, some for the first time, to help turn the ceremonial shovel to start work on the institute that is dedicated to the lives and careers of Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson, two celebrated public servants who first met as Boy Scouts at Heart Mountain in 1943.

“It’s a physical building that we are constructing, but it’s much more than that,” said Aura Sunada Newlin, interim executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. “It’s the expansion of our ability to reach a national and international audience with the story of our past here, but also the dynamism of our present and the vision that we have for the future.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) was moved to tears during her introduction by Shirley Ann  Higuchi.

The extended Mineta and Simpson families included former Sen. Alan Simpson, his wife Ann, their children, Peter Simpson, wife Lynne, their children; and Deni Mineta, former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s widow, sons David and Stuart Mineta and their children. They were joined by Shirley Ann Higuchi, chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, and Newlin.

The Mineta-Simpson Institute was the focus of most of the speakers at the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage on July 30, as foundation leaders and guests acknowledged their appreciation for both men and the examples they provided.

Norman Mineta, who passed away in May at the age of 90, served as a Democratic member of Congress, secretary of commerce for President Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation for President George W. Bush. While serving in the House and Senate, respectively, Mineta and Simpson often reached across the aisle to work on issues of mutual concern.

Former Sen. Al Simpson and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Liz Cheney Moved

“The friendship of Norm and Al really represents what this nation should be and can be,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said. “Their friendship demonstrated what could be accomplished when we come together.”

The crowd of about 400 people greeted Cheney, Wyoming’s sole House member, warmly, in part for her support of Heart Mountain and for her work on the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Cheney was moved to tears during her introduction by Higuchi, who said how much she liked Cheney when they first met in 2019 and how impressed she was with Cheney’s courage in supporting the Constitution and the efforts to preserve Japanese American confinement sites.

The crowd applauded Cheney before, during and after her remarks. Her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, was a surprise guest as he accompanied her to the event.

White House Support

Erika Moritsugu spoke on behalf of the White House.

Erika Moritsugu, the White House liaison to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, said she felt the power of place being at Heart Mountain.

“We’re remembering our collective history,” Moritsugu said. “This is not just a Japanese American story, but it’s an American story with implications for the entire world.”

“Our nation is starting to acknowledge the darker sides of our history,” said Moritsugu, who brought signed proclamations from President Joe Biden to the 22 Heart Mountain survivors attending the pilgrimage. “It helps us own up to its transgressions and know that this history is not to be repeated.”

Moritsugu is the highest-ranking White House official to attend the pilgrimage since it first started in 2011.

Compassionate Witness Award recipient Margot Walk with Shirley Ann Higuchi.

LaDonna Zall Award

The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation presented its LaDonna Zall Compassionate Witness Award to the Walk family, which was represented by Margot Walk, a longtime supporter of the foundation.

Walk’s father, Maurice Walk, was an attorney who resigned in protest from the War Relocation Authority because of its treatment of Japanese Americans.

“He spoke out against the loyalty oath and racism,” Margot Walk said of her father. “My father was one of the first compassionate witnesses.

Walk said she was recently talking about Heart Mountain and the Japanese American incarceration and someone “took me aside to ask, ‘What country was that?’”

Cynthia Walk, Maurice’s daughter and Margot’s sister, also shared in the honor.

“Each in his or her own way is a compassionate witness,” she said.

The award is named in memory of LaDonna Zall, Heart Mountain’s curator emeritus, who passed away last year at the age of 87.

John and Beverly Toyama display a Day of Remembrance signed by President Joe Biden.

Multiple Panels

The pilgrimage featured panels that examined multigenerational trauma suffered by the Japanese American community, heard from authors about histories and novels about Heart Mountain and the Japanese American incarceration, and studied a memoryscape project developed by Erin Aoyama, a Heart Mountain descendant.

The event also came at the end of a weeklong workshop for 35 educators led by Heart Mountain staffers and sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The NEH workshops were part of the impetus for the new Mineta-Simpson Institute, as the foundation needed a larger facility to accommodate the workshops and other gatherings.

The Interpretive Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information on the Heart Mountain confinement site, visit  

Photos by RAY LOCKER/Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation

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