History, East Asian, Politics and Law, Advocacy, Asian Heritage, Events
Reflecting the Past in the Present—In the Present—Imagining the Future
By Grace Eiko Thomson, Past President (President, 2006–08), National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC)
During the weekend of 19, 20, and 21 September 2008, a special program was held in Vancouver. It was organized by the National Association of Japanese Canadians to celebrate an event, 20 years previous—22 September 1988—when the Government of Canada acknowledged the injustices committed against Japanese Canadians during and after the Second World War, and pledged such events will not happen again in this country. The signing of the Redress Agreement and Acknowledgement was an event of national celebration for all Japanese Canadians. It was also unprecedented in the history of Canada, and opened up possibilities for other minority groups seeking redress for historic or other injustices, to present their issues with hope of resolution.
What was great about anniversaries, especially the twentieth, is that it was still within grasp of the collective memory of many Japanese Canadians, and such a celebration offers opportunity to visit the past, not to remain there, but to review and envision the future.
Friday and Saturday morning sessions were opened with a First Nations welcome and blessing by Gloria Wilson (Squamish Nation Elder) and Larry Grant (Musqueam Nation Elder), respectively. Former NAJC President Arthur K. Miki gave the opening plenary address. A welcoming message was offered by Mayor Derek R. Corrigan, City of Burnaby, at the Saturday evening celebration dinner, and a special message by His Excellency, Ambassdor Tsuneo Nishida of Japan. Dr. Roy Miki’s reminiscences of the Redress Movement, followed by the keynote address by Chief Robert Joseph (LLD, UBC, Special Advisor on Residential School Issues, Indian Residential School Survivors Society) electrified the banquet room and received a standing ovation.
Following are highlights of some of the panel discussions and workshops submitted in moderators’ reports:
The opening program, titled Redress: Never Too Late, sponsored jointly by Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) and the NAJC, was moderated by Arthur K. Miki, C.M., (former President of NAJC who signed the Acknowledgement with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney). Introduced by Albert Lo, President, CRRF, the program included speakers from communities who had already achieved formal redress settlements from the Canadian Government for past injustices inflicted upon them through government actions and legislations. The session addressed the terms of agreement, impact of the redress settlement on individuals and on community, actions that will be taken to ensure that the past will not be forgotten and issues that remain outstanding.
Participants included a panel of four, including Andrew Griffith (Director General, Multiculturalism and Human Rights, Canadian Heritage). Chief Robert Joseph (Aboriginal community) acknowledged the importance of the Japanese Canadian Redress settlement in gaining redress for the Aboriginal victims placed in residential schools by the government of Canada. This action had a profound effect on his community as students were deprived of their language and culture. Avvy Go (Chinese Canadian community) spoke on the beginnings of the redress movement for the Chinese Head Tax issue, making reference to the Court Challenge program that resulted in the denial of legal claim made on behalf of Chinese Canadians who had paid the head tax. Although the apology and compensation were announced by the Prime Minister in 2008, some members of the community feel that the compensation did not go far enough. However, she pointed out that the issue is now resolved for the elderly victims. Andrew Hladyshevsky (Ukrainian Canadian community) shared his views on the extended ongoing negotiations with the federal government over many years and with many different ministers. He indicated that the change of ministers was frustrating as they had to educate each new minister on the history and experience of Ukrainian Canadians interned during the First World War, delaying the process. The final detail of the redress settlement is still being worked out with the present government.
David Divine (Afro-Canadian community), spoke as a responder since there is no claim to the Government for redress on behalf of the Black community at this time. He talked about the experiences and also the diversity that exists in his community that makes reaching a consensus very difficult. Professor Divine, however, shared different ways that redress may be addressed. Harbhajan Gill (Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation) who spoke of the apology given by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a park in Vancouver shortly before the election was called. Mr. Gill indicated that the community wanted the apology made in the House of Commons, but he felt that it was a political decision by the Prime Minister to make such announcement in the park since Parliament would not be convening.
The second session on the first day was presented by keynote speaker, Philomena Essed, Professor of Critical Race, Gender and Leadership Studies, at Antioch University. Moderated by Randy Enomoto, he offers that a central point in Essed’s keynote address, titled, Leadership Beyond Antiracism: Against Humiliations and for the Dignity of Being, is that “beyond antiracism there is the responsibility of honouring the dignity of being, the whole human (or nonhuman) being, not only the racial dimension of experience” and that “ethnic or racial reductionism implies that human beings with unique life stories and multiple layers of identity are boxed in terms of only one trait or perceived identity: race-ethnicity. The act of ethnic reductionism implies the temporary denial of the wholeness of self, of the fullness of being. That is in itself a form of humiliation.” Responders Audrey Kobayashi (Professor, Queen’s University), Monika Kin Gagnon (Professor, Concordia University, Raj Gill, (Langara College) and Marcia Crosby (University of British Columbia) as well as audience members, queried and challenged some of Essed’s points, especially her notion of liberation from identity politics.
Building Partnerships and Right Relations with Aboriginal Peoples was sponsored by the NAJC Human Rights Committee, and organized by committee members Judy Hanazawa, Terumi Kuwada and Kim Uyede-Kai, in consultation with Aboriginal advisor participants, Lorna Williams (Assistant Professor and Director of Aboriginal Education, University of Victoria) and Gloria Wilson (Elder, social worker, and former Director of Social Development, Squamish Naion) to produce a Talking Circle format. Lorna Williams and Mary (Murakami) Kitagawa presented personal stories. The workshop encouraged strengthening of good relations between Aboriginal Peoples and Japanese Canadian communities, and in addition, recommended future such events that could support a healing and family story sharing process for Japanese Canadians.
Community development workshops were presented by youth and senior groups. Faces and Roles of Young Japanese Canadians shared and reflected on stories by some inspiring youths, who spoke about their entrepreneurial, academic, artistic and community activities, as they deal with their own sense of identity with their Japanese ancestry. The panelists consisted of a documentary filmmaker (Anne Marie Nakagawa), musician and educator (Jason De Couto), lawyer (Denise Nawata), entrepreneur and Powell Street Festival President (John Yamazaki), and proprietor of Hapa Izakaya (Justin Ault). Interestingly, the stories they shared expressed lives which were learned through understanding, embracing, rejecting and sometimes even financially exploiting their Japanese ancestry.
Looking back, and forward into the future, Envisioning the Future: Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation, moderated by Katherine Shozawa, began with the screening of a documentary by Mieko Ouchi, ‘Saiki (Regeneration),’ and an overview by Henry Shimizu (Japanese Canadian Redress Foundation [JCRF] Chair), regarding the JCRF’s formation in 1989 for the purpose of allocating community redress funds, and a summary of grant recipients by Tony Tamayose (JCRF CEO).
Angele Thibault and Gayle Swanson (Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, New Denver), Kristen Lambertson (General Manager and Programming Director, Powell Street Festival), Rika Uto (President, Vancouver Japanese Language School & Japanese Hall), Cathy Makihara (former CEO, National Nikkei Museum & Heritage Centre), and Jay Hirabayashi (Dancer and Executive Director, Kokoro Dance), representing community organizations that received Foundation funds, discussed their current works and programs, toward an envisioning of a future that includes not only programs, but funding challenges and questions about leadership.
Telling Stories, Questioning Japanese Canadian Identities: Research, Writing, Visual Art as Cultural Practices, was the title of a panel discussion moderated by Scott Toguri McFarlane to mark the importance of the need for contemporary Japanese Canadian (JC) literature and visual arts. The moderator noted that the role of storytelling in the struggle for redress cannot be underestimated, and remembers Joy Kogawa’s Obasan repeatedly being referenced and quoted in politicians’ speeches on the Redress Settlement day. He says, 20 years after Redress, one of the exciting challenges for the community is to develop new narratives as well as visual representations, that give meaning to the contemporary experience of being “JC.” A panel comprised of four key community storytellers was assembled for the conference: Kirsten McAllister (School of Communications, Simon Fraser University), Hiromi Goto (author of award-winning Chorus of Mushrooms), Mona Oikawa (Equity Studies, York University) and Roy Miki, C.M. (poet, writer, author of Redress: Inside the Japanese Canadian Call for Justice).
A panel discussion that focused on Ijusha and Nikkei (Immigrants’) Community, Past, Present and Future, questioned the adaptation and integration of Ijusha or postwar immigrants, through various phases, i.e., after the Redress Settlement of 1988 and what the on-going issues are in looking to the future. Moderated by Masa Kagami (NAJC Executive Board Member), Tatsuo Kage offered an introduction on the History of Post-war Immigration and the Nikkei Community, followed by presentations from panelists Alex Nagao from Calgary (Intermarriage Families Bring Changes to the Community); Yumi Schoenhofer from Ottawa (Female Immigrants in the Multicultural Society), Takeshi Ogasawara from Campbell River, B.C. (Immigrants in a Small Town), and Yusuke Tanaka from Toronto (Future of the Nikkei Community). A second panel consisted of Leslie Komori (Sansei/Third Generation Experience), Takeo Yamashiro (Intergenerational Cooperation through Tonari Gumi), Naoko Takei (The Future of Heritage Language and Culture), Etsuko Kato (ICU, Tokyo, Student Residents, Working Holiday or Work Visa), and Mitsuo Hayashi (The Role of Nikkei Place).
Throughout the conference, video (looped) screenings were offered that included related works by Lynda Nakashima, Rafael Tsuchida and Lyndsay Sung, The Powell Street Revue and Rick Shiomi, Ruby Truly, Jay Hirabayashi, Alejandro Yoshizawa and Michael Fukushima, works spanning from 1980 through 2008.
There were two special performances. One was performed on the rooftop of Sunrise Market, adjacent to a building where Japanese Canadians registered for internment in the heart of old ‘Japantown’ on the Friday evening. Kokoro Dance’s Ghosts, featured 12 dancers, three bagpipes, one drummer and a wealth of inspiration. Ghosts pay homage to the incarnations and past inhabitants of the Powell Street area. The titular ghosts are Japanese Canadian as well as the ghosts of all immigrants, of lives past, and of the thousands who have lived in the Downtown Eastside. Ghosts was co-commissioned by the Dancing on the Edge Festival, the Powell Street Festival, and the NAJC.
The other was held on both Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, sponsored by the NAJC, Chi Kyuu No Stage/Frontline for Peace was a multi-media performance that screened images of conflict-torn countries, including Somalia, Afghanistan, etc., with narrations and original music compiled by Norihiko Kuwayama (Yamagata Prefecture, Japan). Intended for diverse audiences with special focus on youth, the performance has through the years toured throughout Japan; this was their first performance outside of Japan.
National Association of Japanese Canadians
The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) was organized to seek justice for Canadians of Japanese ancestry because of their history of ethnic persecution, racial discrimination and internment. Established on 10 November 1985, it went to to achieve a historic and precedent setting Redress settlement from the Canadian Government on 22 September 1988.
Although Redress was achieved in 1988, the NAJC’s mandate to protect the best interests of Japanese Canadians remains as necessary and relevant today as in the past. The unique history of Japanese Canadians belongs to those who are Canadian born and those who have immigrated. This shared experience has forever shaped and bound the Japanese Canadian community regardless of origin.
NAJC’s primary aims are:
- to enable all Japanese Canadians to work together on matters of concern to the Japanese Canadian community and to individual members who require support and representation;
- to work independently and with others to eliminate racial discrimination and related intolerances, to work in close cooperation with other organizations seeking redress for historic or other injustices,
- and to take collective action to better the political, social, educational and economic welfare of all Canadians.
NAJC hosts a Japanese Canadian Artists Directory and you can learn more about Japanese Canadian history on their website.