Racism against Japanese Canadians informs Kai Nagata's solidarity with Indigenous people resisting genocide

The B.C. environmental activist and former CTV reporter shared some of his family history this weekend over social media

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      This weekend, I posted a commentary by broadcaster and writer Gurpreet Singh about why many Sikhs have been so moved by the discovery of 215 unmarked children's graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

      "Sikhs' commitment to Nanak and understanding of the universal brotherhood is one thing," Singh wrote, "but their first-hand experience of state violence and political persecution because of their minority status also makes them a natural ally of all marginalized groups fighting for equality and dignity in this part of the world."

      A few hours after that article went up, environmental activist and former CTV News reporter Kai Nagata posted a compelling thread on Twitter explaining why Indigenous people resisting colonization and genocide have his full solidarity.

      It's linked to the brutality of the internment of Japanese Canadians, including members of his family, in the Second World War.

      You can read the thread below.

      Even war veterans were interned

      The first Japanese immigrant to Steveston came from the town of Mio in Wakayama Prefecture in 1887, according to Mimi Horita of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery Society. He encouraged others from the village to move to Canada because there was work available in the fishing industry.

      By the Second World War, it didn't matter to the federal government whether Japanese Canadians were born in this country or were immigrants. They were all rounded up and their property was confiscated.

      Even Japanese Canadians who put their lives on the line on behalf of Canada in the First World War were interned in camps in the B.C. Interior or other parts of Canada. 

      Some politicians didn't want them to ever return to the West Coast. They included then Vancouver-Centre MP Ian Mackenzie. (Mackenzie's predecessor, Henry Herbert Stevens, was one of the loudest voices clamouring for the expulsion of the Komagata Maru from Vancouver's harbour in 1914.)

      After the Second World War, the federal government "repatriated" about 4,000 Japanese Canadians to Japan—just because they didn't want to move east of the Rockies—before eventually halting these deportations.

      Some of those Japanese Canadians starved to death after arriving in Japan, which was in the grip of a horrific postwar famine.

      A 100-mile exclusion zone kept Japanese Canadians away from the Pacific Coast until March 31, 1949—nearly four years after the Second World War had ended.

      For those interested in learning more, the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre (6688 Southoaks Crescent, Burnaby) is holding an exhibition until June 27 called Broken Promises. It makes use of narrators to tell the story of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s.

      COVID-19 protocols are in place, which means only eight people can travel through the exhibition at any one time.

      Broken Promises is cocurated with the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Landscapes of Injustice collective, which is based at the University of Victoria.

      For those interested in the history of Japanese Canadians in the fishing industry, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery is hosting an exhibition called Waves of Innovation. It explores how inventions such as the iron butcher and the outboard motor affected different communities.

      COVID-19 protocols are also in place at this exhibition. It's part of the virtual Open Doors Richmond event, which began this weekend. For more information, visit the Richmond Museum website.