NAJC President’s Message – February 2021

by Lorene Oikawa

We all collectively let out a sigh of relief when we saw a smooth inauguration take place in the US Capitol only a week after the violent attack that filled our screens. We were very concerned for our family, neighbours and friends, including those at the Japanese American Citizens League. We were inspired to see Kamala Harris the first female vice president, the highest ranking elected woman in the US, and the first African American and South Asian American as vice president. 

There was a swell of hope when she was being sworn in. I flash back to a late night in a hotel room in Ottawa. A group of us who were attending a national human rights committee meeting in Ottawa gathered [years before COVID] to watch the US election results. It was the night when Barack Obama was first elected. Even though we knew it was a different country, it was symbolic. If a racialized person could achieve the highest elected position in the US, the possibilities were endless.  

Another first was Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet (one of six poets, for four presidents, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama, Biden) to read at a presidential inauguration. “There is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

We applaud the firsts, and we need to keep the momentum going. It’s not just about having “firsts” we need to keep the doors open so more people are included. We need to have inclusivity at all levels of government and organizations. We need to have the diversity of voices at the tables where decisions are being made. As we wish for peace, we must also wish for justice. We recall Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

When we were seeing the images of violence and destruction in the US Capitol, we may have been feeling some relief that we are in Canada. However grateful we are for our country, we must not be complacent. Hate and racism is not limited to other countries. 

The Japanese Canadian community knows too well from our experiences when our ancestors first became settlers in this country and throughout history to recent incidents during the pandemic. As we work with other communities such as Indigenous peoples, African Canadians, Muslim Canadians, Jewish Canadians, and others we learn their stories. We also know that unfortunately we all share the experience of hate. Even in 2021. 

More Canadians have experienced online hate in the form of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Racialized people who make up about 20% of the Canadian population are three times more likely to have experienced online hate. These troubling numbers come from a Canadian Race Relations Foundation survey that was released at the end of January. Their survey found that 93% of Canadians believe online hate speech and racism are a problem. One concerning aspect for Canadians is the ability of social media to rapidly promote and spread dangerous rhetoric. At least 60% of Canadians believe the federal government has an obligation to prevent the online spread of hate and “four in five Canadians would welcome strengthening laws to hold those who post hateful or racist content accountable for their actions.” More poll results at or

One of the ways to combat hate is to build understanding. Through the NAJC Endowment Fund Committee, we support the promotion and development of Japanese Canadian cultural and heritage and provide assistance to organizations and individuals for projects. We will be posting updated requirements for this year’s grants soon on our website. The deadline for applications is June 30, 2021. 

One completed project is the recently published book, Kyowakai: Memory and Healing in New Denver – Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, which tells the story of Japanese Canadian internment in New Denver, the creation of the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre (NIMC) by the Kyowakai Society, and the healing it inspired. The book costs $21 (incl GST) + $10 shipping. Proceeds go to NIMC. Email to purchase. We have more information posted on the NAJC Facebook page and on our website.  

 The NAJC Human Rights Committee is sponsoring a 1-hour Virtual Tour of the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School, followed by a 30-minute Q&A on Sunday, February 21st from 3:00pm – 4:30pm EST. This unique educational opportunity will be facilitated by the “Save the Evidence” Coordinator for the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Ontario. The event is a free event but limited to 40 participants in order to preserve the intimacy and engagement with this intense learning experience. The format will be meeting style with attendees visible to each other for the Q & A). For more information and registration info go to or email 

We have just passed the one year mark, since the first case of the COVID-19 virus was confirmed in Canada. The start of the vaccination process has brought hope. We still have to follow the protocols because we are still dealing with outbreaks, new variants, and a delay with one vaccine manufacturer. Please keep safe.

The National Executive Board wishes you good health, peace and justice.

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