Who are the Deline? The Deline First Nation, which also goes by Dene, are an indigenous tribe whose lands are located in Northwest Canada. Aside from the iconic part of their history that will be highlighted next, in 2016, the Dene people made history again by becoming the first self-governed community in Canada to include both indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Jumping back in time to the late 1930s, this was a period where the Canadian government coerced Deline men into working at mines. Very little information was shared about the jobs, and many of the Dene men thought they were mining for silver, and didn’t know what the mining plant was doing with the resulting ore.
Even after helping mine large quantities of what was actually uranium war, and the entirety of World War II passing by, the Deline people were still not informed of what the Canadian government had pressured them into doing. It wasn’t till around 25 years later that the Dene people realized something was horribly off. The men who had worked in the mines were being diagnosed with terminal cancers and soon the Deline people became known to surrounding First Nations as the “Village of Widows” because so many men were lost to cancer.
On an early August morning of 1945, an atomic weapon was unleashed in war for the first time ever. The U.S. dropped its “Little Boy” uranium-based bomb on the city of Hiroshima, ending hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. The weapon was built using uranium that was mined in the Belgian Congo, which was higher in quality than the uranium from the El Dorado plant, which is what the Deline contributed to.
On the 53rd anniversary of the atomic attack, the Dene people organized an effort to send 6 elders to Hiroshima to apologize for their unknowing involvement in the destruction of Hiroshima and to explain that they were unaware of how much pain and damage their ore could possibly cause when they mined it.
In the years leading up to 1998, the Deline had actually been informed that the uranium used in the “Little Boy” bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima, was not actually mined on their land. However because of their strong and genuine sense of responsibility and care for the innocent lives that were lost, their guilt as well as their wish to apologize remained.
It is interesting to note that the Canadian government, the party that knowingly mined for uranium to build a bomb in the first place, chose not to send any representation along with the Dene elders on this trip to Japan.
As the existence of this website would suggest, Princeton had a huge impact on the creation of the atomic bomb. In the early 1940s as the wartime race to build an atomic weapon geared up, many Princeton scientists were recruited by the government to help work on the Manhattan Project, a top secret project with support from Canada and the UK.
Thus in many ways, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, the damage and deaths caused were a “win” for all the Princeton scientists involved, who used their knowledge to bring a destructive tool like never seen before to life.
Unsursprisingly, Hiroshima University was completely decimated by the bombing. Not only were the university’s buildings destroyed, but most of Hiroshima’s faculty, staff, and student body perished during in the attack.
In 1951, 6 years after the bombing, Tatsuo Morito, the president of Hiroshima University, sent a message out to universities around the world. He asked for their help as Hiroshima worked to rebuild their campus, specifically in the form of books and trees, which would bring both landscape and literature back to the university.
Princeton was one of the schools that responded to this call by donating one book and just enough money to plant one tree on campus.
Decades later in 2012 when Hiroshima University had successfully managed to rebuild itself and restore life to campus, Hiroshima sent Princeton a collection of atomic-bombed ceiling tiles that were saved post-bombing. It was meant to be a symbol of gratitude for Princeton’s donation and an artifact that embodied a landmark event in history for Princeton to hold onto.
Because of Princeton’s buried connection to the creation of nuclear weapons, these tiles also symbolize a deeper and more painful connection between the two universities.
It is unfortunate that a quick visit to Mudd Manuscript Library, an archival library on Princeton’s campus, is enough to reveal that the correspondence in 2012 between the two schools severely lacked on Princeton’s end, with short, almost uninterested responses that did not own up to the true responsibility that our institution had in the realm of atomic warfare. Sadder yet, rather than having the gift of artifacts that Hiroshima University sent on display, the ceiling tiles currently still sit in a cardboard box, wrapped up in layers of foam in Mudd Library’s archives.
Current and Future
Thus our goal is to help Princeton follow in the Deline’s footsteps by writing a proper apology (Section 2) and rebuilding connections with Hiroshima students (Section 3). As depicted in the diagram below, Princeton has traversed the linear path to Hiroshima, the one which caused pain and destruction, while the Deline traversed both the linear path and a second curved path toward apology and forgiveness.