Researcher: US Planned "New Finland" for Refugees in Alaska

In 1940, the United States considered the possibility of settling Finnish refugees from the Winter War in Alaska, according to Lecturer Henry Oinas-Kukkonen of the University of Oulu.

Image: Museovirasto

Addressing a historical research conference in Jyväskylä on Friday, Oinas-Kukkonen said that the proposal was intended to be carried out if the Soviet Union had conquered Finland.

In early 1940, he says, US officials were preparing to set up an "American Finland" in the northernmost state. The US Department of the Interior drew up several proposals to create a Finnish colony in Alaska during the late winter and early spring of 1940.

The plan was presented to Former President Herbert Hoover, who chaired the Finnish Relief Fund.

"New Finland" would have been established in Central Alaska around the Tanana River, a tributary of the Yukon. US authorities considered conditions in the Alaskan wilderness to be suitable for the Finns. Central Alaska is at roughly the same latitude as central Finland.

Birches and Midnight Sun

"The area has a northern terrain of rolling hills, birch and spruce trees and midnight sun. It was considered the closest replica of their homeland that could be offered to the Finns," Oinas-Kukkonen says.

However the plan became bogged down because of opposition from Alaskans in Congress. The biggest obstacle was the idea of a large national group speaking a language that many considered completely incomprehensible.

"The Finnish language was seen as a factor that would have caused problems for the naturalisation of Finns living in Alaska," he explains. According to an analysis at the time, it would have taken 100 years for the Finnish settlement to become truly American.

While the proposal became deadlocked in Congress, Finland signed the Moscow Peace Treaty on March 12, 1940. The pact ended the three-and-a-half month long Winter War and forced Finland to hand over more than 10 percent of its territory. The evacuees, mostly from Karelia, were resettled in other parts of Finland. In the spring of 1940, the US Congress appropriated 30 million dollars to help Finland recover from the war.