NAJC President’s Message – December 2018

by Lorene Oikawa

It’s been a whirlwind of activity going into December. We remembered the Japanese Canadians who served Canada on Remembrance Day at the Japanese Canadian War Memorial in Stanley Park. We were also reminded that the cenotaph was unveiled on April 2, 1920 so 2020 will be the 100th anniversary. Discussions are happening now so make a note for Remembrance Day 2020.

Planning for the future is one of the priorities for the NAJC National Executive Board and to prepare, we met last month in Winnipeg for a strategy session. We are looking at matching our work to our priorities in a sustainable way. The NAJC wants to be able to continue to have the capacity and processes in place to meet our goals. We started reviewing what we will need for committees to support our work. We will continue to report out as we develop our plans. We are looking forward to meeting with the membership at a general meeting on December 11, when we will discuss some of our commitments that we are working on now. 

One of our commitments is our partnership with the Landscapes of Injustice (LOI), a seven-year project on the dispossession of Japanese Canadians. The first phase was about research, determining the how and why the dispossession occurred, who benefitted, and what were the policies and laws that allowed this to happen. We’re now in the second phase, knowledge mobilization, which is communicating the results of the research and the analysis about how Canadian law failed to protect its citizens. 

The LOI steering committee of which I am the Vice Chair, met the first weekend of December. We heard about the progress of the “clusters” which are the teams working on specific topics such as the archival database. On the last day of meetings, a public panel was held which had speakers who shared constitution stories from Canada and the United States. We heard about the histories of Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans, and how their respective constitutions failed them and how some Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans tried to overcome the racism and injustice. 

Dr. Eric Adams, one of the speakers, was sharing the story about when the Canadian government was proposing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1980, NAJC president Gordon Kadota led a delegation including Roger Obata and Dr. Art Shimizu. Their emotional speeches and urging to strengthen the charter and entrench it in the constitution, to provide the protection that Japanese Canadians did not have, had a powerful impact on the government committee. After Dr. Adams finished speaking, it was noted that Gordon Kadota happened to be present, and the audience broke into applause.

There are many more stories, but not always with a positive outcome. The stories are an important part of the history of our country and reveal the why, what, where, when, how, and who are the people who played a role in determining what would happen to an entire group of citizens based on race. 

One of the tests for our society is not just how we treat people when times are good, but what we do or don’t do when we are challenged by stressful times such as periods of conflict, poor economic conditions, and fear. And it’s not just about the people who are racist, there is also complicity in supporting unjust actions. 

The NAJC is speaking out on December 6 National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Please take the time to remember the 14 women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal who were targeted because of their gender and killed. Across Canada there are also missing and murdered indigenous women, and other women and girls who have been murdered or harmed. This is not just a women’s issue, and all of us must speak out and take action to stop the violence. Check out and attend events in your communities. I will be MC again this year for an event in Surrey BC.

Other dates to note in December include December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 10, Human Rights Day, and December 18, International Migrants Day. 

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia Day or any other occasion in December, on behalf of the NAJC National Executive Board, I wish you a joyous, peaceful time with your family and loved ones. I hope you are able to enjoy Mochitsuki and eating noodles on New Year’s Eve and Japanese food on New Year’s Day.  

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