Walk for Reconciliation
Ottawa Japanese Community Association and National Association of Japanese Canadians Walk for Reconciliation
“Whether one is First Nations, Inuit, Métis, a descendant of European settlers, a member of a minority group that suffered historical discrimination in Canada, or a new Canadian, we all inherit both the benefits and obligations of Canada. We are all Treaty people who share responsibility for taking action on reconciliation.” -Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Reconciliation”, p.117.
On May 31, 2015, the Ottawa Japanese Community Association (OJCA) and the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) joined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, Reconciliation Canada, dignitaries, public leaders and thousands of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in the Walk for Reconciliation. According to the TRC, “the act of gathering and walking and sharing our stories can join us all in a shared commitment to creating a new way forward in our relationships with each other” (TRC website, “About the Walk”). This walk was part of the events leading up to the release of the highly publicized TRC final report on the Indian residential schools system in Canada.
As we walked, a number of people made a point of speaking with us. Several residential school survivors approached us at various points throughout the walk to say “thank you” for walking with them. The Ottawa group of “Raging Grannies” showed a thumbs-up as we passed. A few people exclaimed “Arigato!” with warm smiles. A Japanese Canadian who took part in the walk as an individual stopped us to ask about our association. Countless people made a point to read our signs, give us a smile, and/or take a picture. A journalist for the Anglican Journal asked what inspired us to be there.
The Spirit of Redress
What did inspire the OJCA to take part in the Walk for Reconciliation? In 2014, the OJCA established the “Spirit of Redress Committee”. To date, the committee is a very small but motivated group who think that the Japanese Canadian redress movement left a legacy that we should carry on and develop. In the 1989 preface to Spirit of Redress: Japanese Canadians in Conference, Cassandra Kobayashi and Roy Miki wrote: “In the years ahead, as we attempt to build on the vitality and ideals of the Redress movement, let us hope that our thinking and our actions will continue to be shaped by [the spirit of redress’] powerful undercurrents”. Some of these powerful undercurrents are a belief in the importance of action on historical justice and human rights issues in Canada.
On a practical level, the redress movement’s success can be attributed in large part to its focus on forming, what they referred to at the time as, “coalitions”. Individual Canadians, academics, unions, media representatives, and politicians from all levels of government are some of the many who signed on in support of redress for those Japanese Canadians who had been wrongfully dispossessed, relocated, interned, and dispersed across Canada during and after WWII. Among the strong supporters were First Nations, who understood and have experienced these types of injustices first-hand.
Like the movement to make Canada address the residential schools system, the Japanese Canadian redress movement had to counter racist attitudes, history, and legislation. It had to educate Canadians on the history of internment and why it was wrong. It had to develop a new Canadian historical narrative. It had to rally on parliament hill, gather in private homes and cultural centres, and develop expertise in dealing with government bureaucracy and political agenda. Although our histories and present are different, Japanese Canadians share similarities with Aboriginal peoples through these experiences.
As a committee that was formed only one year ago, a timely and powerful way for us to begin the work of honouring the Spirit of Redress is to learn from and engage with the largest historical justice movement that is evolving in Canada today: Reconciliation between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal peoples.
Spirit of Redress Committee Creator and Chair, Past President of the Ottawa Japanese Community Association & member of the National Association, Human Rights Committee
Spirit of Redress Committee member & Co-creator of “The Tashme Project: The Living Archives”