Reconciling Several Pasts

December 20, 2010

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recently announced a conference to take place in Vancouver (March 2 – 4, 2011) to discuss the proposed National Research Centre on Residential Schools. I recently visited the Nikkei Place / Japanese Canadian National Museum (JCNM) in Burnaby whose funds partially came from the reparations awarded for the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. I wonder if the Research Centre on Residential Schools will take their cue from the JCNM, which aims to be a site for both the sharing of information as well as the creation and fostering of a strong Japanese Canadian community.

Raymond Nakamura gave me a tour of the exhibit on the internment and we discussed some of the similarities between the Japanese Canadian experience and the Indian Residential Schools. A few months ago, I posted a short excerpt from Thomas King’s short story, “Coyote and the Enemy Aliens,which draws connections between these two histories. It seems fitting to post it again here:

“I know the story of the Japanese internment in Canada. I know it as most Canadians know it.

In pieces.

From a distance.

But whenever I hear the story, I think about Indians, for the treatment the Canadian government afforded Japanese people during the Second World War is strikingly similar to the treatment that the Canadian government has always afforded Native people, and whenever I hear either of these stories, a strange thing happens.

I think of the other.

I’m not suggesting that Native people have suffered the way the Japanese suffered or that the Japanese suffered the way Native people have. I’m simply suggesting that hatred and greed produce much the same sort of results, no matter who we practice on.”

Model of Japanese Canadian Internment Camp in Lemon Creek, BC

Image at Internment Exhibit

Back to the matter at hand

December 1, 2010


Postcard for The Children Remembered

I’ve been looking through the archival documents and images I brought with me to Paris and am still trying to process the many stories they tell. Because in most cases I did not bring the originals with me, I am either looking at pictures of pictures (photographs I’ve taken of the images), photocopies or reproductions of the originals that are now circulating in different ways.

The image that has my attention now is a postcard printed by the United Church of Canada. It is a piece of promotional material for their Residential Schools Archival Project: “The Children Remembered.” There is a lot going on in the photo. The children are drawing “zeros” or perhaps circles on the blackboard, their backs facing away from us. Three girls, five boys. The banner “Looking unto Jesus” is perched above them in bold block letters. The image conveys both a sense of movement and a sense of stillness. The second girl is caught with her head looking slightly to her left; the boy second from the right seems to be reaching upwards to write higher. The angle from the picture is taken positions the photographer (and the viewer of the photograph) within the first rows of the classroom.

On the back of the postcard is a short excerpt from the United Church of Canada Apology made in 1986: “We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were.”

Hello, France.

November 7, 2010

An obligatory shot of the Eiffel Tower

I arrived in France at the beginning of November to begin my 5 week stay as a Memory and Memorialization Fellow at l’École normale supérieure in Cachan (a suburb of Paris). The Fellowship, organized by CNRS (France), New York University (USA), Memorial de Caen (France), and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum (USA), brings together memory scholars and experts to foster dialogue across disciplines.

During my stay, I’m interested in seeing how discourses of public memory circulate in France, particularly in relation to a history of colonialism and the second world war. I’m also interested in discourses of assimilation in France, as they reveal some of the ways in which France imagines itself as a nation and imagines its citizens. Although my main emphasis remains the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I’m curious to see if or how drawing comparisons between the two contexts can lead to some interesting conversations.

In my first week, I’ve managed to dive into my reading list, do a little writing, and  visit two museums of interest: Le musée du quai Branly and Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration. I’m going to post about them soon. But in the meantime, here are a few photos from my trip so far:

Me and the leaves

A quiet morning at l'École normale supérieure campus in Cachan.

NA and JB reunited.

I stumbled upon this powerful interview with Andrew Windyboy recently. It highlights that the experiences of Aboriginal people with the Indian Residential Schools is by no means confined to Canada.