Walk for Reconciliation
Vancouver, September 22, 2013
by Mas Fukawa
Sheltered from the rain under a makeshift canopy and tucked in the corner behind the stage, I did not have a good view of Rev. Bernice King or the other speakers, but as I listened and joined in the walk, I was reminded of our own rally for redress on Parliament Hill twenty-five years ago in April 1988. Stan and I had flown to Ottawa from Nanaimo and were joined by our daughter who was attending UBC.
We had our individual reasons for joining the rally as did our fellow marchers. The signs read “Redress the Wrong,” “Justice Now,” “WWII Vets for Redress,” “Enemy That Never Was” and “Erase the Shame.” There were yellow streamers with names of survivors and large photos with captions that read “Home ‘42” and “Life in Exile.” I remember picking up a sign, getting ready to march, when another marcher came by and asked if she could have it. I assumed that the words had particular significance to her and I readily handed over mine and picked up another.
The signs expressed the feelings and lived experiences of the marchers. For me, a reel kept running in my head. I pictured the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the civil rights supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington twenty-five years earlier. I hung on to his words: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Fifty years since his march and twenty-five years since our rally, his daughter was addressing the survivors of residential schools. Sadly, it felt like déjà vu.
The success of the redress movement in Canada owes much to the success of the civil rights campaign of Japanese Americans who were granted their redress just six weeks earlier in August 1988. However, there were differences in our struggles. Japanese Canadians were mistreated over a longer period and more severely. There was also strong opposition especially from Canadian war veterans captured by the Japanese Imperial army in Hong Kong and from Prime Minister Trudeau who rejected reparation for past injustices. His comment “justice in our time” was cleverly used by the redress leaders to mean just that. There was also conflict within the Japanese Canadian community and within the movement itself. Four years into the struggle, funds and support for the movement began to dwindle.
The National Association of Japanese Canadians turned to members of other community groups for their support. The broad-based support came in the form of rallies, petitions, letter writing and postcard campaigns. The National Coalition for Japanese Canadian Redress were comprised of ethnic organizations, church and labour groups, civil rights leaders and prominent individuals. The speeches at the Ottawa rally were powerful. The focus was on redress as a justice issue, the importance of process, and as a larger struggle for human rights.
What resonated for me were the words of Chief George Watts, a member of the Tseshaht Tribe and leader of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, at a redress rally a month previously in March 1988 in Vancouver: I think of the word ‘justice.’ Too many people in this world have a concept of justice as one thing: ‘Just us.’ We can’t just look at ourselves and say justice will come by itself. It never will. I was mindful of his support when we needed it badly. Chief Watts did not live to witness the statement of apology by the Prime Minister to the former students of Indian Residential Schools. It came three years after his death.
Unlike John Hayashi I do not have the courage to listen to the stories of the survivors. I cannot endure the pain inflicted by the residential school system. As a grandmother of four, I do not want to even imagine having my grandchildren taken away, to have their culture and language beaten out of them, to be sexually abused, to be killed. There are no words to describe the pain. Yet in spite of the unimaginable pain suffered by Native peoples, Chief Watts had the generosity of spirit and compassion to fight for and with us. On the 25th anniversary of redress, I would like to say a very belated and humble “thank you.”