Honouring Our People

GVJCCA Human Rights Committee hosts three-day gathering in September to honour our elders

The Honouring Our People:Stories of the Internment conference to be held September 25 – 27, 2009 at National Nikkei Museum and Heritage Centre will pay tribute to the lives of Japanese Canadians who experienced racism, alienation, betrayal, restrictions, uprooting and loss during and after WWII. It will acknowledge the resilience and perseverance shown by Japanese Canadians who not only endured but often prospered after the war, and will seek to create dialogue between generations and give descendants of survivors the opportunity to learn more about their family’s history.

The conference is sponsored by the National Association of Japanese Canadians and the Greater Vancouver JCCA.

September 25, 5pm – 9 pm
September 26 9am – 9pm
September 27 9am -12pm
See old friends or reconnect with family and reminisce about your experiences from before during and after the internment period. Please know that your stories are important to us and for the following generations.
Refreshments, and lunch and dinner on Saturday will be provided.

We have had to revise the fee schedule due to additional costs and apologize for any inconvenience.

Revised fees are: Regular: $60
Students and Seniors to age 76: $20
Seniors 77 and up: FREE

For registration information please call the JCCA office at 604.777.5222 and leave your name and number or email the Human Rights Committee at gvjcca@shaw.ca
If you have Facebook, click on Facebook group: Honouring Our People – Stories of the Internment

Download Registration Form in Word Format

Some members of the organizing committee share their thoughts on the reason committee members have been working hard toward this major community event.

Keiko Mary Kitagawa
Many decades have passed since the Japanese Canadian community experienced the horrors of internment during WWII. The Isseis and the Niseis who suffered the most from this injustice are diminishing quickly in numbers. It is often stated that many have kept this trauma deep within their psyche because it is so painful to talk about it. Many children and grandchildren are not aware of their ancestors’ past. The GVJCCA Human Rights Committee is hosting a three day gathering on September 25, 26 and 27, 2009 to give the internees a safe and comfortable place to share their stories. We are hoping to honour our past by having our internment experiences voiced by people who experienced the trauma. Our future generations will be able to connect with our history by hearing these stories.
My family, the Murakamis of Salt Spring Island, was exiled in 1942 when I was seven years old. I have told our story to hundreds of high school students and others; each time it becomes less painful. Please honour our gathering by sharing your internment experience.

Emi Kordyback (nee Tsutsumi)
I am one of the conference planners for this September and have been surrounded by a great deal of enthusiasm for what we’re planning. We held a focus group involving the issei and nissei asking for their advice and what they would like to see at the conference. The information and stories that they had to tell were wonderful to hear. For me it was filling in some of the missing history of our community and of my family. We have a fascinating history with huge variations in experience but with a source that connects us all.
One of the reasons for attending this conference is to connect with people who had settled in Matsqui where my family had begun [began] strawberry farming before the war. Much of our belongings including photos were lost in the upheaval. The other period that has been lost to me was the internment period when my family were split apart. I would love to meet up with people who went to Winnipeg to the sugar beet farms to find out more about their experiences and what happened after. Every time I hear peoples’ stories I am struck by the courage with which they have met the challenges they were faced with and how they have steadfastly continued to build a future for their children despite the odds. Anyone know the Yamamoto’s or the Tsutsumi’s back in Matsqui before the war? Let’s meet up at the conference!

Lorene Oikawa
The conference is really about honouring our Issei and Nisei and those who survived the internment. We want to provide a welcoming environment so they may share their stories. As part of our planning for this conference we held several focus groups. As a yonsei, I was fascinated to hear the stories. When I participated in one of the groups, I was repeating a similar theme for the sansei. We are missing pieces of our own stories. We cannot rely on anyone else to piece together our stories or preserve them. It’s up to us. It’s also a legacy for future generations.

My father died when I was a child. I discovered part of my father’s family story in 2006 when there was a reunion of the families and their descendants who arrived in BC on a ship called the Suian Maru in 1906. On the Doi side, my mother’s family, I have heard some of their childhood memories. After the war, my grandfather was pressured “to go back to Japan.” He told the government he couldn’t go back to a country he had never set foot in and he wrote to the prime minister telling him that he was born in BC, a Canadian, and refused to leave.

I wish I had been able to tell my grandparents and my father how proud I was of them and to thank them for their courage and their hard work to make a better life for us. The conference is an opportunity for us to collectively thank those who paved the way for us and to hear more of their stories. Please join us and help fill in the missing pieces of our Japanese Canadian history.

Judy Hanazawa
I am very glad we are hosting the upcoming conference called, Honouring Our People:  Stories of the Internment.  I sincerely hope this conference will attract community members, especially surviving Issei, and all ages of Nisei people.  I hope our Issei and Nisei participants will be willing and even wanting to share their stories regarding personal experiences and family life, not only during the 40s, but also from before and after the internment years.  I would like this conference to be an enjoyable reunion for people of various internment sites or postwar Japanese Canadian communities, and that memories will be shared between family members and old and new friends.  Perhaps people may meet who haven’t seen each other in decades!  My own family were interned in Bridge River, and because both my parents have passed on, I am hoping others who were in Bridge River may attend this conference, so that I can hear more about Bridge River.

I feel these stories are so important and should be preserved for younger generations and the Japanese Canadian community as a whole.  I am aware that many stories have been recorded and archived already, but there are probably so many more which haven’t yet been documented. For this reason, I am hoping some conference participants may permit us to document or record their stories.  Although we have achieved redress, and many wonderful community centres have been built for community members to come together again, we haven’t really been able yet to listen to and learn from the story which exists in each and every Japanese Canadian family who survived those difficult times.  Hopefully this conference will provide some opportunity for this.  This conference will also give us a chance to acknowledge, remember, honour and thank community members, including senior members who have passed on, who experienced the hardship and challenges of the internment years, who endured, overcame and worked so hard to provide a stable foundation for their children.

Liz Nunoda
I was born and raised in Smithers, BC, and have lived in Vancouver since 1985.  Growing up as one of a small handful of Asians in the Smithers area, I always felt marginalized and did not want to be Japanese.   After I left Smithers and moved to Vancouver, I started asking my Nisei father questions about his experience of growing up a second-class citizen in pre-war Vancouver, and then forced relocation and dispersal during and after the Second World War.  He told me everything he could remember, for which I am grateful.

I think this gathering should focus on the experiences of the elders in our community, most of who are the Nisei, who experienced disenfranchisement, incarceration and forced dispersal.  The purpose of this gathering should be to encourage these elders to tell their personal stories about this time, in order to create a subjective, grassroots community history.  We are doing this so that these stories will be preserved for their families and for the Japanese Canadian and non-Japanese Canadian communities, and so that the Nisei legacy can live on in the form of stories. These stories are important because they give younger generations a sense of identity.  Also, this is an important event in Canadian history that should be told by those who experienced it.

Tosh Kitagawa
I was 9 yrs old when the orders came for evacuation.  The ultimatum was to go to Hastings Park to await dispersal to the various internment camps, self sustaining communities like Bridge River and Lillooet or to the sugar beet fields on the prairies.  My father chose to go to the beet fields as he felt that the family would be together.  He was concerned that being idle in concentration camps was not an ideal situation for young children.
My initial excitement on being on a train to a place called Diamond City was soon tempered when the reality set in.  Diamond City consisted of three grain elevators and a General Store/Post Office.  We were housed in an abandoned shack that was less than 600 square feet.  There was no electricity or running water and the shack was uninsulated.  A pot bellied coal stove along with the coal-fired kitchen stove heated the shack.  Our lives for the next six years were spent in this primitive environment.
Our contract with the farmer was to nurture 30 acres of sugar beets.  This entailed the back-breaking job of thinning the sugar beets to leave a single seedling 8 to 10 inches apart.
As the beets developed, we had to hoe the weeds two to three times during the summer.  Harvest of the mature beets occurred in late October and November.  This process involved shaking the beets from the heavy soil and piling them in a row after the farmer lifted the beets with a mechanical device. The next process was to top the leaves from the beet with a machete-like knife which had a pointed hook on the end.  We stabbed the beet with the hook, cut off top and threw them into wagons drawn by horses.  For this back breaking labour, we were paid a meager $30.00 per acre.  Our family survived on this measly amount for a whole year.  My father was forced to seek alternative employment as a carpenter to earn additional money to survive.  This form of labour was akin to share cropping that black Americans endured on the cotton fields in Mississippi, Alabama etc. before the civil war.
Freedom to seek other forms of employment or to move was not granted until 1948, three years after the war ended!  I am sure that there are many other survivors who experienced similar experiences or worse.  I encourage those who were in Picture Butte, Turin, Magrath, Cardston, Raymond, Coaldale, Barnwell and Taber to come and tell their stories.
Tosh Kitagawa is on the organizing committee of “Honouring our People:  Stories of the Internment” Conference in September.  “We encourage all survivors to come to tell their stories. We already have many registrants from the various internment camps like Greenwood, New Denver, etc.  Our family chose to go to the beet fields in Southern Alberta.”