Kirsten Emiko McAllister

Always (in the) Present1

November. It is now November. The coast will soon be in the damp cold clutch of winter with its dramatic storms and icy clear days of quiet contemplation. Though not yet evening, the city has been submerged in darkness. I am at my desk writing aimlessly, not certain of where the words are taking me. I head off on a long, slow jog along English Bay. The sea is an inky black with the lights of freighters stretching back towards Vancouver’s shoreline like long gleaming tears.
Over the Burrard Street Bridge, a small arch into the sky, to Snauq, Kitsilano Reservation No. 6, and turning right onto a dimly lit street, I wonder where it will take me. As I approach the shore, rising above me I am astonished to see a totem pole. When I return home and after a flurry of research, I learn the pole was carved by Mungo Martin, a renowned carver and highly esteemed authority on his culture. Born around 1880, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw in Fort Rupert, he held the high-ranking hereditary name, Naka’pankam (potlatch chief ‘ten times over’).2
The totem pole in Snauq is one of two identical poles that Mungo Martin was commissioned to carve for the centennial year of the colony of British Columbia in 1958. The other totem pole was shipped to England as a gift to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.3

It is hard not to see the 1958 centennial celebrations as gruesomely macabre, with the one hundred years of occupation more fitting to mourn than celebrate. But Mungo Martin made a powerful statement by making the official gift to mark the centennial, a totem pole. In his greetings to the Queen he spoke in Kwak’wala, the language of his people, and explained, “I designed this to show the family stories of my tribe, the?… [Kwakwaka’wakw]. This is the way we show our history. This pole will show the crests of ten tribes.”4 The act of sending the lineage of his people, a lineage with roots in the land that go back thousands of years, Martin Mungo can be seen as asserting the continuous presence of Aboriginal people on their territories and their right to self-rule. His assertion called on the Queen to remember the terms of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that cite the Crown’s responsibility to ensure that the sovereign rights of Aboriginal people are respected. Thus Mungo Martin transformed the province’s celebration of the Crown colony’s centennial into a political ceremony between two sovereigns: a Kwakwaka’wakw chief and the Queen of England.

On that dark, cold November day, I stood before this chief’s totem pole, uncertain of the proper decorum in its powerful presence. But then it was as if the totem took my gaze upwards?… tilting the weight of my head back as I looked from Cedar Man and Halibut Man, to Sisuitl and Whale, and upwards. I felt my throat extending, opening the cavity of my chest wherein my heart lies, and bearing all that I am, there, before the ten Kwakwaka’wakw Tribes.5 Their family crests ascended upwards, lifting my vision from what I just saw before me, upwards into the infinity of the night sky.

An Invitation

When I was invited to contribute to this volume I had understood it was because of my work on the damaging legacy of Japanese Canadian internment camps. My mother and her family, like thousands of other Japanese Canadians, were classified as enemy aliens by the Canadian government, who seized their homes and properties shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, and removed them from coastal British Columbia to internment camps in the interior of the province or to sugar beet farms in the prairies where entire families were forced to work as labourers. I have spent much of the last twenty years exploring the silences and absences as well as the creative and critical work of activists and artists trying to transform the destructive after-effects of Japanese Canadian internment.

It was not easy to accept the invitation to contribute to this volume. With great respect I look to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and the profound work that has been done to address “the healing needs of Aboriginal People affected by the Legacy of Physical and Sexual Abuse in Residential Schools, including the intergenerational impacts.”6 In asking people like myself from non-Indigenous communities to step forward and make a contribution, I recognize that the Foundation has created a space to take part in the process of (re)conciliation so necessary for healing. I recognize that this process requires building new relationships and understandings. In the face of the continued occupation of the territories of Indigenous People and the devastation of ongoing colonial violence, the leadership you extend to us is humbling.

Here, I understand that stepping forward is necessary. Writing about our work in dialogue with the Foundation is one way to step forward. But to accept an invitation means one must offer something worthy of the honour of being invited. Yet, at the most fundamental level, I have little confidence in the very language, the very words and gestures, I rely on to communicate. Words place people in relation to one another. They carry histories; painful histories. Even if a writer is unconscious of that history as it lives on in her or his words, gestures and even “good” intentions, it is there, re-enacted with the enunciation of the words with all the assumptions, the ignorance, the injustice, and the plain stupidity. So I have been circling around the invitation for several months. It has not felt right to simply present the work I have done on Japanese Canadian internment camps. Like many other Japanese Canadians concerned with social justice, my work has been inspired and informed by the work of Indigenous leaders, Elders, scholars, and artists; it has also immersed me in the material and psychic devastation of the internment camps, tracing the damage as it has unravelled across generations, including through my own body and psyche. This memory work has focused on how this history has reached into the present and kept a suffocating hold over the community. As Japanese Canadian redress activists and scholars have made clear, Japanese Canadians were only one of many racialized groups the government aimed to remove from the Canadian territory.7 Moreover, their persecution was part of a much larger colonial project whose prime target has been Aboriginal people. Eradicating people with world views that respect the land, sea, rivers, and life, in general, has been an essential step for colonial regimes driven by capitalism, which is a destructive system aimed at reducing all forms of life into exchangeable objects that can amass profit. This colonial history has shaped the realities for postwar British Columbia, marking anyone who is not recognized as some variation of an ideal British subject as a perpetual outsider who threatens the integrity of what is imagined to be this province’s social body. Critical scholars and activists have been so focused on critiquing colonial occupation and persecution as well as the legislation that restricted, segregated, and physically removed people who were categorized as racially undesirable segments of the population; and it is only recent that researchers have begun to examine the nature of the relations between Indigenous people and racialized migrants.8

Thus, rather than presenting the work I have done with my mother’s community, it seems that this relation needs to be addressed first, even if it requires much more ongoing research, thought, and, importantly, dialogue and exchange. To address this relation, it would be easy for me to simply revert to statements of political solidarity or remorseful guilt. While solidarity is obviously a requisite and an honest acknowledgement of the fact that Japanese Canadians have contributed to, and benefited from, building the infrastructure of the British colony is necessary, in themselves they are insufficient. Statements of solidarity and guilt are too easily turned into clichés that do not allow us to understand the intricacies of these relations, both in their insidious forms and the possibilities they hold to create something else. Moreover, these clichés can be used by activists and academics like me, as moral discourses to shame others and place us in a superior position. In terms of discourses of guilt, first, I turn to Elder Fred Kelly who makes clear that reconciliation requires: (a) honest acknowledgement of harm, (b) sincere regret, (c) readiness to apologize, (d) readiness to let go of anger and bitterness, (e) commitment not to repeat the injury, (f) sincere effort to redress past grievances, and (g) entering a new mutually enriching relationship.9 Thus, if guilt is all that racialized settlers like me have to offer, this is very troubling since it is said that guilt is an aggressive emotion, a Christian one, I think, though I was not brought up with religion, so perhaps I am simplifying. Guilt is a way to punish oneself for something one feels wrong about doing. While it is necessary to regret the harm one has inflicted, it is something different to stay forever in a position fixated on one’s guilt, especially in public forums, whereupon the invocation of guilt asks others to relate to us primarily in a relation of aggression, an aggression against oneself. This hardly seems like a good path forward.

The guilt-habit can also be a way to draw attention to oneself, away from the work that needs to be done. Forgoing the fixation on guilt does not preclude regretting the wrongness, the destructive impact, and what can be the sickness and pathology of our actions. But here the point is to move from what can paradoxically become a safe space of guilty confession as well as the moralizing and shaming of others to start trying to understand what are the necessary changes to transform how we live on this earth with all other beings.

I begin with an introduction of my family. Both sides of my family, the Nakashimas and the McAllister/McQuarries have lived in British Columbia for four generations. In many ways it has been their stories that have woven my family’s memories into the land of your territories with a sense of wonder as well as respect and knowing that a life can easily be snatched away in a storm or at the wrong turn along a mountain ridge. The stories instruct the listeners that it is foolhardy to make assumptions about other people, especially those one meets in the remote corners of this province, as their wisdom is likely based on experiences that make listeners, like me, the ignorant ones.

My family has not lived in any particular place over the years, but there are places where different family members feel a particular kinship towards. These places hold a certain power over them. They can hold a sense of loss for what is no longer there and the people who have passed on. To return to these places is to honour the memories these places hold, whether a dilapidated, sagging house no longer inhabitable or a sandy bay pounded by the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the Island. I don’t think anyone feels as if they have rights to the land, even over the property where they live. This perhaps is because of my mother’s family history of dispossession and displacement and because of my father’s family’s itinerant movements during the First and Second World Wars, whether from Nelson to the coast, within Victoria, or to Vancouver, as they debated and debauched as artists and anti-war activists over the years.

The Nakashimas and the McAllister/McQuarries were from two different worlds, though as a child I did not think much about this. In Vancouver we’d visit my favourite cousin, Dana. Her parents, my Uncle Joe and my Auntie Sheila, transformed their arts and crafts house into a vision of West Coast modernism with skylights and a studio space for Auntie Sheila, my father’s sister, who was always in the grips of a creative project, exploring the coastal imagery, whether through silkscreens and oil painting or ceramics and sculpture. My Grandma Clare lived for a number of years on Galiano Island in a forest green house with an apple orchard. We spent a considerable amount of time with my mother’s family in Vancouver, especially during Japanese New Year’s and other holidays. My Ojiisan’s and Obaasan’s10 household was the centre of the Nakashima family, and even as adults, my brothers and I continue to turn to my uncles for their advice and guidance. My Ojiisan was the central figure in the family, overseeing everyone’s well-being; and when he passed on, my Obaasan became the matriarch. Like many Issei, while they did not want their daughter to marry a white man and warned my mother about “round-eyed” children, once my father proposed, he became part of the family, being called to Vancouver to deal with all manner of family crisis and conflict. Never that close to his own parents, he had a deep bond with my Ojiisan. The only time we have seen him cry was when my Ojiisan died.

In writing this piece, I have been taken back to many places in my past. I have tried to follow where my words have taken me and found myself trying to understand my presence here, in this land, as it is tied to multiple histories of displacement and dispossession. I explore how I have located myself or more precisely imagined myself here in the province’s layered memoryscape, which includes the stories of my family and begins with a memory of a Mount Currie roadblock. The piece has allowed me to question the absences and explore the forces at play in this memoryscape, which locates me as a child growing up in British Columbia in the 1960s and 1970s. In writing this piece, I came to realize with terror—I cannot recall any Indigenous children from Nanaimo attending my schools, as I will recount below—where were the children my age?


I was a child when my family first took a trip to Lillooet in the early 1970s. Across the river from Lillooet is East Lillooet, a place that became familiar to me through the stories of my mother’s family. East Lillooet sits high above the Fraser River on an arid alluvial terrace between two mighty mountain ranges. It was the location of one of many internment camps in the interior of British Columbia where the federal government held thousands of Japanese Canadians during the 1940s. These camps were part of a systematically deployed plan to remove all people of Japanese racial descent from British Columbia. This was one of many projects instigated by the Government of Canada to remove what it classified as racially undesirable sectors of the population inhabiting the territory it claimed to be under its jurisdiction.

East Lillooet is where my mother’s family was incarcerated during the war. The summer we returned was hot and dry. The plan was to drive inland through the coastal mountain ranges from Pemberton to Mount Currie and then north along Anderson Lake to Lillooet. I have a vivid image of my father at the wheel with his battered canvas hat driving cautiously along the logging road that hugged the steep valley wall high above Anderson Lake. The truck was a four-wheel drive, pale yellow International Harvester Travelall. My father, with his puritanical Scottish inclinations, selected the bare-bones model, which was basically like a steel shell with thinly upholstered seats. Complaining was not tolerated. My brothers and I sat in obedient silence on the backseat with our husky–wolf dog, Kashtanka, who was shedding large white tufts of fur from her winter undercoat that settled like low-lying clouds over everything within her radius.

What I remember most is the roadblock at Mount Currie. The Lil’Wat man in charge of stopping cars approached us. My father started rolling down his window to greet him, but when the man saw my mother and us three sun-baked brown kids he simply waved us on. In my child’s mind I remember that moment. It is imprinted into my memory. Amid the line of cars and trucks, the dust, the summer heat, the tension, and confusion I remember his look. He didn’t come over to inspect us, ask for our identification, and then deliberate over whether we had permission to pass; rather, in one glance his look took us in and beckoned us through?… into what I now know to be Lil’Wat territory.11

That moment has stayed with me over the years. As I explore what it was about this moment that left such an impression on me, I find myself trying to imagine myself back into this period of my life, into my child’s world on Vancouver Island. We lived in the northern district of Nanaimo where swaths of old forest had been cut down for postwar housing, though in the 1960s and 1970s the cliffs above the sea and the slopes leading up to the ridges and bluffs were still carpeted with massive Douglas fir, wild honeysuckle vines, and emerald green mosses. My father insisted on using local flora in our garden, so he planted salal around our house that merrily grew into thickets entangled with wild rose that, over time, began to engulf the house and yard. Every now and then my mother would attempt to clear room for an ornamental plant, but the salal usually won. The oldest residents were three ancient cedars towering over our home like graceful giants. My father built our front deck around one of them. Every few years, as the cedar’s girth would expand, he’d saw a few inches off the deck to give the cedar room to grow.

When I started school I was introduced to Nanaimo’s other world. During elementary school there were very few children from non-white families, though I recall that there were a number of other families like ours, with parents who crossed the “racial lines.” They were around my parents’ age. Most had recently moved to Nanaimo to work as marine scientists, physicians, biologists, lawyers, professors, nurses, college teachers, surgeons, and technicians, making Nanaimo a post-colonial outpost of sorts for young professionals with cosmopolitan interests in jazz and modern art who would have been educated in the 1950s, the decade following the Second World War. There was also my friend, A.H. Her older brothers were successful commercial fishermen. She had a strong sense of pride in her Indigenous heritage. Her mother, I think, was from a Nation from the north end of the Island, as I remember her showing me the prestigious blankets that her mother had inherited. I also remember her telling me that the government did not recognize her mother’s status because she had married her father, a white man, and thus lost her birthrights.

As a child I was too young to understand how bodies were mapped into the racialized terrain of the province. I had no language to articulate the dis-ease and discomfort, the uneasy feelings and simmering resentment that could unpredictably erupt into hostility and violence. In my first school all I knew was that “jap, nip, chink, paki, injun” were ugly words with their shortened vermin-like syllables that had strange monstrous powers. It was as if whoever uttered those words transformed, nightmare-like, shaping their faces and tongues around vectors of hostile energy with the power to reduce you into something despicable and inhuman.12 My mother proudly tells me that I punched a boy in the nose when he made racist slurs against one of my friends. When I was detained after school, my mother indignantly questioned why the teachers hadn’t reprimanded the boy or met with his parents.

That was the only way I knew how to respond at the time—physically. I was overtaken with outrage. How dare this boy think of treating my friend like this. As I grew older I knew too well how the power of words could leave you helpless, stripping your power of speech. You couldn’t reason, never mind argue, with your tormentors. Appeals to their compassion would be met with scorn and cackling laughter. Words would fall from your mouth as if mute, and in their hands, mutable. What you said, no matter how logical and factual, meant nothing. Your speech lost all power. Your tormentors did not regard you as another person, as another whose body and being mattered13 and whose feelings and thoughts they felt compelled to consider.14 one grounds to doubt one’s body, perhaps indeed to lose one’s entire body in total doubt” ( Sobchack, 2004:197).]

In grade five I transferred schools. At my new school I became conscious of the dynamics of racism in its subtle as well as its most blatant forms. The new school was in a neighbourhood that could have been straight out of a photo shoot from one of my mother’s 1960s’ Sunset Magazine for Western Living, but the residents in these modern dream homes, one has to remember, were not from a modern dream. Many residents living here would have thought nothing about the fact that the Snuneymuxw First Nation was restricted to six tiny reserves in the south section of the city, cut off from the wealth of their vast territories. Within their lifetimes, it had been less than one hundred years since “the British established the Colony of Vancouver Island, giving charge of land and settlement to the Hudson’s Bay Company.”15 As Paul Tennant explains that before 1849, “nothing occurred that can reasonably be regarded as having affected aboriginal title in British Columbia?… the few whites were everywhere vastly outnumbered, and the companies did not seek to intrude directly into the life or politics of the Indians. Control over Indian societies and Indian lands thus ‘remained in Indian hands’,”16 until thousands of white men began flooding into their territories in search of gold. Such a radical change in the political social world of this region in less than one hundred years was forgotten, or more accurately, was never acknowledged by the influx of settlers who simply saw land and resources to be exploited followed by newer residents taking advantage of the opportunities in the province’s postwar economy.

If the residents in these new suburban homes cascading down once-forested slopes were adults in the 1960s, they also would have lived through the 1930s’ Depression and then the Second World War, either as children or as adults. They could have witnessed the RCMP rounding up Japanese Canadians living in Nanaimo and confiscating their properties during the 1940s when they were sent to internment camps. Some would have taken possession of their properties and moved into their homes. As they grew up, it would have been normal that Chinese Canadians and Indo-Canadians lived in areas segregated from the rest of Nanaimo’s population with legal restrictions that made these groups undesirable “second-class citizens,” without the right to vote until 194717 and with restrictive immigration laws, including a total ban on immigration for people from China and severely restricted terms of migration for South Asians that were not fully dismantled until the 1960s.18

Thus the adults of my childhood living in these modern suburbs designed with clean lines of the future all grew up in a highly segregated, racialized society. But then there were parents like my mother and father who brought together the segregated worlds. My parents’ lives criss-crossed the racial lines of Nanaimo, not only among the other young professional couples of their generation. They were friends with the Wong family, the owners of the clothing store and tailor shop; the Yoshidas, the owners of the fusion Grotto Restaurant; and the Dubés, a physician and family from Trinidad. They also were in contact with the White family of the Snuneymuxw Nation after becoming involved with Tillicum Haus, as I’ll explain below. But going back to Nanaimo, my mother decided to move me to the new school in grade five I suspect because the academic standards of the old school didn’t meet her expectations. For me, it simply meant that I was cut off from my childhood friends. My parents had selected my first school precisely because there was a mixture of children from different backgrounds, whether from fishing families, the daughters of mill workers, lawyer’s sons, or the children of lumber barons. It was a decision that reflected their era’s progressive Co-operative Commonwealth Federation/New Democratic Party “equal rights” vision of society.

My first school is couched in mythic imagery. It was a small three-room school with split classes from grades one to six. It was a two-mile walk from our home, northward past Hammond Bay. During recess and lunch, in addition to seasonal games of marbles, skipping, and various ball games, we’d build forts on the edges of the surrounding forest and dam the countless streams criss-crossing the school property with huge muddy grass sods, creating minor floods throughout the grounds. But as I move into this memoryscape, other imagery comes into focus, just as intense, but clearly separated from the images of adventure. I recall being surrounded by large thuggish boys who would harass me, backing me into stinging nettles as they spit and swore, though amid the cloud of fear, I would also hear the voice of an older girl trying to reason with them: “she is just little, leave her alone?… ” It is incredible to think that these children were only ten to eleven years old and already with so much hatred and anger and so much compassion and courage. My older brothers went to this school as well, but I don’t remember seeing them much. I don’t even remember walking home with them. As adults, they don’t discuss their elementary school years, though from what I can discern there was a lot of brutality.

For many children, as it was for me, the education system was a blunt introduction to the social hierarchies and values of British Columbian society; though as mentioned above, I didn’t have the language to articulate the forces at play. Even the teachers from my first school would target children. Reflecting back, I now recognize that these children were usually from families on the economic margins. They were struggling with their studies and having difficulties socially integrating with the other students. The school system treated these children as mentally deficient or, in the lingo of the time, as “mentally retarded” and dealt with them by sending them to remedial classes. This gave license for the rest of the children to treat them as if they were abnormal. There are three students—two sisters and a brother—I remember clearly. The teachers treated them with particular scorn. They were newcomers. Their family rented a modest wooden cottage on Hammond Bay Road. The oldest sister had gleaming blonde hair and startling transparent sky blue eyes. And if I remember correctly, the complexion of her small brother was more like that of my brothers and me, if not darker. Crowds of wildly jeering children would surround them during recess and lunch. The teachers did nothing to intervene, even though these attacks took place not 15 metres from their staff room. It wasn’t until the children’s home burnt down that the teachers became sympathetic and organized everyone to bring donations. I can’t remember if the cause of the fire was determined. The family left the area the next year.

“Race” was but one system of denigration in this mid-sized BC town. It never operated in isolation and it’s important to note that it was not necessarily always a determining factor in our interactions. There were different power hierarchies, whether based on class position, your family’s social status, and allegiances between families as well as between children whose older siblings were friends (or enemies) in the higher grades. For instance, the fact that my parents were professionals and that my mother did not hesitate to question the education system, and, if necessary, mobilize other concerned parents, I imagine meant that teachers in general were more cautious about how they treated me. In addition, my older brothers left a network of support in each school they attended. That said, in my second school I also learned how racism operated in a middle-class milieu. There were fewer fights and schoolyard attacks making it more difficult to identify the source of hostility and its insidious forms. These students were adept in racism. There was a group of boys from Nanaimo’s established business class who began targeting me during recesses and lunch breaks in a coordinated pack, brushing by and uttering racist comments under their breaths. Yet equally skilled was a group of girls who stepped forward to report them to the teachers. The teachers in this school took swift action to change the culture of my class, setting up a series of group exercises devised to encourage each student to positively relate to one another. Perhaps this is why my mother sent me to the new school, though the aggression incited by racial difference is never a matter of two or three bad individuals. It’s much more insidious, like a fine mesh of living nerves running through bodies and spaces, creating an emotional ecology of resentment, confusing desire, and compulsions that reach back into our colonial legacies and population control programs.19

As I try to locate my childhood experiences in relation to other racialized communities in Nanaimo I find absences. I know the town historically had generations of Chinese Canadians, Japanese Canadians, Sikh Canadians, and of course the founding people, the Snuneymuxw First Nation, as well as a number of African Canadians.20 Local history books21 make little mention of the fact that the government rounded up Japanese Canadians in Nanaimo and sent them to internment camps in 1942, but the books do recognize the other racialized communities, even if they normalize the fact they were confined to specific sites within the old town’s geography. Chinese Canadians were hired as labourers in Nanaimo’s coal-mining industry and were forced to move their residential and business district at least three times before it burnt down in 1960.22 Less is written about the Indo-Canadian community; though a gurdwara23 was built in the early 1920s that was open to all South Asians regardless of religion in the area, making it an important community venue in what was a hostile environment.24 Like other racialized groups, though, it is important to remember that this community contributed to the colony’s competitive resource extraction-based economy. Mayo Singh, for instance, who came to Vancouver Island in 1916, established a forest empire in Paldi and Cowichan Lake, later setting up a state-of-the-art mill in Nanaimo in 1958.25 The Snuneymuxw First Nation, who had jurisdiction over the entire region before colonization, was restricted to six “reserves” south of the town centre. According to Tennant, James Douglas made fourteen land purchases from 1850 to 1854 on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), a number of which were from the Snuneymuxw, which Canadian courts subsequently claimed were treaties.26 But Tennant points out that it is sometimes incorrectly assumed that Douglas purchased the land on which the Nations built their houses and garden plots and that he regarded all the other land as “‘waste’ land,” not owned by anyone. In this line of logic, HBC then permitted the Nations to continue to live on the land it purchased. But as Tennant explains, Douglas’s so-called treaties, in fact, show “unequivocal recognition of aboriginal title”: they owned “the whole of the lands” they traditionally occupied.27

I’ve tried to recall students from all these communities. There were only a few Chinese Canadian students at my junior high school in Wellington, and even fewer Indo-Canadian students, probably since most lived in the Harewood area. Only after I left Nanaimo did I hear about the levels of racism and exclusion they had to endure. My mother was a member of a committee to revise the school board’s policy on racism, and she heard many accounts about the entrenched racism, especially against Indo-Canadian students. I remember her recounting how one Indo-Canadian parent told her that she cried when she read that racism in schools was under study. This mother described how her children were victimized by students and teachers throughout their schooling in Nanaimo. Apparently, when a group of Indo-Canadian students at the senior high school took a proactive stance to raise awareness about racism, they received little support from the school’s staff. Yet, despite the barriers, they went ahead and sponsored an Anti-Racism day and conducted role-playing exercises at different schools.

But, most fundamentally, I keep going back to my inability to recall Aboriginal students, other than A.H., especially at the senior high school. This is where students from across Nanaimo went for grades eleven and twelve. Surely there had to be some Snuneymuxw students. I was at this school only for grade eleven but can’t think of anyone. Searching through the local history books, I came across a few lines that indicate that children from the Nation initially were sent to “Indian Day Schools” in the late 1800s in Nanaimo but then later were sent to the Kuper Island Residential School. My heart starts racing. In the schools I attended, where were the Aboriginal children my age? I start feverishly looking for more accounts about Kuper Island. I find references to this residential school scattered across publications like Mary-Ellen Kelm’s Colonizing Bodies and Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey’s Stolen From Our Embrace, and more recently there is Qwul’sih’yah’maht, Robina Anne Thomas’s chapter, “Honouring Oral Traditions of My Ancestors.”28 This place, Kuper Island—as I piece together these publications as well as the film by Peter C. Campbell and Christine Welsh called “Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle” and the children’s novel No Time To Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School by Sylvia Olsen, with Rita Morris and Ann Sam29. Victoria, BC: Gumboot Productions. (Available from Moving Images Distribution, Vancouver, BC); Olsen, Sylvia with Rita Morris and Ann Sam (2001). No Time To Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School. Victoria, BC: Sono Nis Press.]—was a nightmare residential school, a reality ripped out of the most terrifyingly sick horror film. I read that it opened in 1890 and was operated by the Order of Mary Immaculate of the Roman Catholic Oblate missionaries,30 and like other residential schools, the buildings and land and most of the funds required to operate the internment centre were provided by the federal government. As Kelm writes:

These arrangements for running the residential schools were beneficial to both parties. For a limited cost, the department could boast that residential schools had spread across the country with the assistance of the churches. For their part, the Christian churches were aided in gaining access to a population of children to proselytize without the competing influences of either indigenous religion or rival denominations.31

The only way to get to the island was by boat. The island is across from Chemainus, north of Salt Spring Island and west of Galiano Island where, eerily, there were Japanese Canadian communities before the war. The children sent to the residential school on this island—an island probably much like the islands around Nanaimo where my brothers and I played as children—would have been trapped. There are accounts of children who courageously tried to escape the cruel predatory Catholic sisters and brothers. At night there were some who tried to cross the channel on logs even though the distance from Kuper Island to Chemainus is four nautical miles. In the winter month of January 1959, two sisters tried to escape. Their small drowned bodies were found in the following days.32 Cold and fatigued, they must have slipped off their log into the water’s depths. When I was growing up in Nanaimo, I ask again, where were the Aboriginal children my age?… where were they? I panic and start looking for dates. When did the Kuper Island Residential School close down? Was every child from Nanaimo sent to Kuper Island? I finally email the editors of this volume and ask if anyone at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation might have information about the dates for Kuper Island. If this was the reality for the Snuneymuxw children and their Nation throughout the first half of the century, was this horrific nightmare reality happening while I was a child, safely tucked in bed at home in Nanaimo?

Why didn’t I know about the existence of Kuper Island Residential School? How could this be? I ask my parents. They did not know about Kuper Island either. How could this be? The Foundation sends back some information from the BC Archives and the National Archives.33 I start an online search. Most of the documents have restricted access and are not online. In the British Columbia Archives you can access the online lists of the records (not their contents) made by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate: there are daily journals, punishment books, and agricultural work record books. As I search more broadly for clues about key dates, I am shocked at the volume of records on governing every aspect of the education and health of Aboriginal people. It feels uncomfortable to look through these records, even if they are just inventories of the actual documents. Given the highly painful nature of these records for individuals, families, and communities, researchers need to ask themselves what is the purpose of their research, what level of detail is appropriate, and what might be of social impact on families and communities. I search for dates, but not descriptions of what happened at Kuper Island. The Survivors, their families, and their communities will decide what is made public and how it is made public, as some have done so already in publications and other forums. As someone who grew up in Nanaimo, I am looking for the children of my generation. I find out that Kuper Island was closed down in 1975. The operation of the school reverted to the government in 1961. I cannot determine the date when children from Nanaimo stopped being sent to Kuper Island, though one of my mother’s friends taught in one of Nanaimo’s elementary schools attended by Aboriginal children sometime in the 1970s; but this does not mean that children were not still being sent to Kuper Island. While there are no residential schools in operation today, shockingly, there is legislation that still exists with “provisions which give the Minister the authority to establish and operate Indian Residential Schools and allow for the forcible removal of children from their homes?… [And while Section 119] has not been used in years [it still]?… allows for the appointment of truant officers who may take a First Nations child into custody and ‘convey the child to school using as much force as the circumstances require.’”34
Again I ask: where were the children? Where were the teenagers of my generation in Nanaimo? In the film Kuper Island, Survivors gather in a healing circle and share photographs of those who have not survived. Some photos look like they could have been right out of my high school yearbook with the shag haircuts and feathered bangs. Some smile shyly and others look you in the eye with the seeming confidence of youth. All this is gone now. I finally ask one of my older brothers if he remembers any Aboriginal students. No, he does not. How can it be that this reality was not even on the edges of my consciousness while living in the same town, in the same place, but so removed from it? I only have questions now, no understanding…

A Gesture

Given all of this, what did it mean when the Lil’Wat man swept us up in his look and beckoned us through the roadblock? Why has this moment stayed with me? There was no ambivalence, no uncertainty, he simply gestured us through.

I also remember my mother turning to my father and, with a few words, she broke the magic?… “maybe he thought I was Aboriginal?” I felt a pang of anxiety. Had he mis-recognized us? Had he beckoned us through, thinking we were other than who we were? In a world where I was acutely aware of how my body was out of place, causing anxiety and, at times, hostility, I knew about mis-recognition. This was a world where there were few places to be at home, except perhaps in the dream of my parents in the rebellious love of their youth when not much more than a decade after the war they decided to marry. I knew mis-recognition. There’s that unnerving moment when whoever so warmly welcomed you registers that you are in fact not what they thought you were and, instead, unknown and alien. The realization spreads over their faces and bodies like an icy shock. You’ve deceived them, even though this wasn’t your intent. You want to apologize, but when it is your body, a body that is ambiguous that can slip across borders and is never really at home except in spaces between, what are you to do?

Yet if I recall my mother’s words, “maybe he thought I was Aboriginal?” the way she spoke suggested a sense of familiarity. She did not have my anxiety about mis-recognition. It was as if she was familiar with the gesture, this protective gesture of being invited into Indigenous space. There was an echo of youthful wonder, not quite sure of all the reasons for being granted this privilege, yet feeling that glow of specialness a child feels when she or he is included.

It is now coming back to me; when I was a child my mother enrolled me in a beading class at what is now known as the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre. The class was in the south end of Nanaimo, a long distance from our home on Horswell Bluff. Recently, I asked her why she decided to enroll me in this class. She said she was on the centre’s board in the 1960s, and my father was involved too. Tillicum Haus,35 the centre, offered a community space and support services for Indigenous youth who came to Nanaimo from northern communities to attend high school. Families in Nanaimo billeted them. My mother said that the United Church was initially involved. Apparently there was a radical young priest who initiated the centre, though I am not sure in what capacity or if at all. Our family did not go to church nor practise any form of organized religion. And while I seem to recall my father’s deeply ingrained dislike for churches,36 my parents cannot remember now how they became involved. According to my mother, most of the people on the board were Indigenous, status and non-status. The Friendship Centre arranged socials, like dances (and this is where board members like my dad were asked to be chaperones), and cultural and heritage programs for the youth.

The beading class was one of many cultural programs at the centre. It was significant that my mother turned to Snuneymuxw First Nation for what they could teach her daughter in what was a racially divided white working class town during the 1960s. It was a small act, but for me, one I remember. The other girls in the class were much more advanced than me, but the women running the class patiently taught me how to bead daisy chains and other wondrous creations.

I think about this Nation and their generosity and openness to my mother and her small daughter.37 I think of the First Nations and other acts of generosity and profound care, even to us who have been occupying their land. There are stories about the time when the Canadian government began rounding up Japanese Canadians in 1942 and sending them to camps. There were Nations who had close relations with Japanese Canadians living in their region, and these Nations offered them shelter, not just temporary shelter, but they invited them to become one of their people, which meant the RCMP could not take them away. I wonder how the First Nations would have viewed my mother and her generation, interned on their territories. My mother was interned on the territory of the St’át’imc Nation. How would have the St’át’imc Nation viewed her and the other Japanese Canadian children—all those small children—incarcerated on their land by the federal government? And then after all restrictions on the movement of Japanese Canadians were lifted in 1949,38 like many other restless young Nisei, my mother was eager to leave the confines of the isolated settlement where her family ended up.39 Her teachers, especially Mr. Berry, the principal and teacher of English 11 and 12 in Lillooet, encouraged her to work hard and win the school’s entrance scholarship for UBC. Imagine this teacher championing a Japanese Canadian student in this small rural town. Her father did not believe it was appropriate for a girl to attend university. If she was to pursue further education, it would be secretary school, like her older sister who had already travelled alone to Vancouver. It was only when a respected Issei woman stepped forward and gave my Ojiisan firm counsel on the importance of education that he finally conceded and permitted my mother to leave for Vancouver to attend UBC.

And thus she moved to Coast Salish Territory. My mother says she can’t recall meeting many Indigenous people in Vancouver. There was Gloria Cranmer who was also a student at UBC. She was the daughter of a powerful Alert Bay chief. My mother describes Gloria Cranmer as having a glamorous movie star-like presence. After finishing her degree in Anthropology she returned to Alert Bay to establish the now famous U’mista Cultural Society. My mother also recently recalled another First Nations student in the law program. When she worked as a student at the provincial health laboratory, which was across from the courthouse, she remembers him coming up to introduce himself. My mother noted that he became the first Indigenous judge in British Columbia. I think this must be the Honourable Alfred J. Scow, who was born 10 April 1927 at Alert Bay, the first child of Chief William and Alice Scow of the Kwicksutaineuk Nation.40 While my mother did not necessarily have a political conscience at the time, it is significant that these students made a point of introducing themselves, suggesting their political awareness and perhaps also their recognition of the dispossession and displacement my mother and other Nisei students had experienced.

In the 1950s, how would the Coast Salish have seen my mother and the other 18- and 19-year-olds travelling alone back to Vancouver, where many lived as children before the government stripped their citizenship rights and sold off their families’ personal belongings, homes, boats, and businesses to strangers? Young Nisei like my mother were coming back to a city whose residents had stood by and watched it all, some who now were in possession of what they had been forced to leave behind with the Custodian of Enemy Alien Property.41

Some Nisei have told me that as children in the internment camps they were strangely sheltered from the wartime realities that the adults struggled with to survive. It was only as they left the isolated camps as young adults, keen to pursue training and employment, when they directly had to face the hostility now laced with the guilt of postwar populations. My mother does not see this as part of her experience, though she talks about the way Jewish students looked out for her and included her in their circles of friends, including her dear friend Bianca, a beatnik from the United States.

I wonder if many Nisei would be able to return the Indigenous look of recognition—to acknowledge what Indigenous people saw in them, as if it was something Japanese Canadians themselves have been unable to fully face: the reduction of their parents, their brothers and sisters, their teachers, elders, and themselves to “nips” and “japs.” Viewed as such the Canadian government would thus ignore their appeals to uphold democratic principles and respect their rights as fellow human beings—all this remains too difficult to bear. Today, those in my community still painfully bear the burden of blame for what happened to them, and they continue to yearn for acceptance from the system that had been only able to see them as “japs” and “orientals.” This makes it very difficult for them to see how their realities are mirrored in the government’s persecution of Indigenous Peoples, even if the persecution and dispossession of Indigenous Pe0ples are unfathomably more extensive.

A Look of Recognition

At the roadblock, was the Lil’Wat man’s look of recognition really mis-recognition? Given what Indigenous children and youth were undergoing in the hands of the government and churches, perhaps he saw something he recognized. It was not whether this family was Japanese Canadian or Indigenous, but something else. A legacy of dispossession? A generation who had no certain place in postwar society and whose losses, humilities, and devastation had yet to play out across future generations? Even though what Japanese Canadians underwent was neither of the scale nor the level of the ongoing devastation that Indigenous people face; nevertheless, we received the Lil’Wat man’s look of recognition, which also, profoundly, was a gesture of inclusion.

It is true that he could have mistaken us for an Indigenous family. I can never know what he saw. For me, his gesture comes as a gift with all the questions and possibilities it holds. There was something profound in his gesture that, over the years, I have seen echoed in other looks. The look of recognition differs from a look of pity, empathy, or sympathy. To pity, empathize, or sympathize you must be able to acknowledge the fact that certain actions have taken place that have made another suffer. But, all define the feelings of the person who acknowledges the suffering and loss of others, whether feelings of indignation, sorrow, or contempt. To pity is to have “feelings of sorrow aroused by a person’s distress or suffering”; whereas to be sorry involves “grief or sadness for loss of good or occurrence of evil.” To pity entails “regrettableness” and feeling “sorry for them.” It separates the person from the object of their pity, who embodies loss of goodness or evil, which I describe below more generally in terms of a deficit. At worst, pity can involve “contemptuousness.”42

Empathy involves “the power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation.” Projecting one’s personality into another person as the method to comprehend this person means using your own personality as the primary model for all others, obliterating the uniqueness of experience and perspective that constitutes the difference of the other. This form of empathy, which involves projecting yourself “into” the other differs from what Jill Bennett calls “self-reflexive empathy” or what Dominick LaCapra calls “empathetic unsettlement,” where you feel for another but are aware of the distinction between your perceptions and the experience of the other person,43 although these forms of empathy still remain very complex processes fraught with power relations as well as the danger of being engulfed in another’s psychological landscape. Forms of empathy where the other is viewed as “an object of contemplation,” reduce the other person into an object that belongs to your mind. As such, this form of empathy can be said to consume an other to cannibalistically incorporate them into your self.

Sympathy is different insofar as it entails “being simultaneously affected with the same feelings as another?… [the] tendency to share, or state of sharing another person’s or thing’s emotion or sensation or condition?… [the] mental participation with another in his trouble or with another’s troubles?… compassion (for)?… in agreement (with) in opinion or desire.” In this definition, supposedly because you share another’s emotion, sensation, or condition you can “mentally participate” with their troubles, which contrasts empathy where you project yourself into others. Yet at the same time, to be able to “have” sympathy for another suggests a degree of distance. You must be “mentally” removed enough from their conditions to be in a position where you can give sympathy. This means there is a distinction between your state and the state of the sufferer, who might be, for example, overwhelmed by their emotion or condition. Thus the sympathizer positions her or himself as having, to some degree, overcome the pain, humiliation, degradation, or deprivation of the sufferer.

The Lil’Wat man gave us neither a look of pity, empathy, or sympathy. Each of these looks see the other in terms of an injury or loss. A look of recognition entails another type of relation. It starts with an understanding that the very possibility of one’s existence in this world is fundamentally interconnected with all other beings. If you regard all to be interconnected, then this also means that the well-being of all is interconnected, and thus you are aware of the rippling consequences of your actions in the intricate interconnected networks of the whole. Here it is not a matter of seeing others as simply the same as you as if there is no difference and distinction between being/beings in the world. To be interconnected already means each has their own ways of being/coming in the world with their own particular paths and struggles, none better or worse than any other. A look of recognition comes with no assumptions and no prescriptions about an other’s heritage or historical legacy, which each person navigates in their own way. This is what the look of recognition grants, an openness to an other way of being.

Yet if all is interconnected in a world where there is loss, injury, violation, and destruction, how do we relate to those who bear so much more of the suffering? This is something my father taught me: one does not relate to others just in terms of their injuries. One does not reduce them to what the individual who pities, empathizes, or sympathizes views as their deficit. You respect their dignity; you respect their person.

Yet coming from a community with a history of persecution, I’ve seen how people suffering can, in turn, incur more injury, whether psychical or physical. They can construct elaborate realities that justify their destructive chaos, servile relations, suffocating control, or toxic states of anger. Anyone who questions or, even worse, refuses to comply with the terms of their reality, can cause rage. Thus in this struggle with my historical legacy, I am coming to slowly realize that the concern for the well-being of another means recognizing not just the other but also one’s self in this suffering with all that it entails. It requires neither romanticizing nor demonizing the sufferer or, for that matter, one’s own suffering. There can be a confused sense of being somehow responsible for taking care or supporting the “victims” of chaos and a guilt for removing yourself from what is in fact a prescribed role. But if you view those who suffer and yourself not just in terms of injuries, then there is also a recognition of that person’s capacity to be, your own capacity to be in relation to others that is interconnected to others and to be in the world in a way that can transform. Otherwise, to see others/yourself comparatively in terms of a deficit means failing to see them/yourself and what they/you are and can be. It lets them/you and you fall into the abyss of expanding destructive circles. There can thus be a compulsion to distance oneself from the suffer/suffering-self, as one fears being engulfed.

Yet there is another way. A gesture offers an opening—open to people to come forward if they so wish. The gesture in itself is one that is necessarily grounded in the place one stands. This takes fortitude and strength and clarity. The Lil’Wat man welcomes; it is he who is in a position to invite others into his territory. Accepting the invitation to go forward entails recognition of his place, there in his territory, and here on this earth. A gesture of welcome is not an act that forces another to respond. It is not a means to control. It does not impose a relation between yourself and the other person. It recognizes the other’s capacity to act, to decide, and to determine if and how they respond. What it does require is that they recognize your presence in your own right, distinct from theirs, just as the Lil’Wat man standing there in his territory. In such an opening, what is offered is a place of acceptance—not blind acceptance and supplication but a place for an other—that entails mutual regard and respect. This is an acceptance that comprehends there are losses and suffering, and that person has had to find a way to live with their legacy, whether they are in struggle or at peace. There have been those who have granted me this acceptance. There is no claim to authoritatively know me. And again, here it does not reduce a person to any injuries they might have had?… nor importantly does it result in becoming pulled into what can be the smoke and mirrors of a troubled psychological landscape. I find it hard myself, to be, and hard to be roaming this landscape.
What is entailed in this look of recognition? What did the Lil’Wat man grant in his invitation? He might have seen dispossession and displacement but he did not reduce us to that. The Lil’Wat man has shown me there is much to learn. I can just say I am only beginning to see all that is involved in understanding my dislocation in relation to my presence here on this land through the many stories and, most significantly, the absences in my memoryscape.

A Return

I end with a more recent memory of the 2010 Women’s Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Women in the Downtown Eastside on the 14th of February.44 Women and men, we filled the streets: Gore, Hastings, and back down past Oppenheimer Park. Outside the temporal flows of the city, we walked to another rhythm, the drummers and singers honouring the sites of loss and mourning. As we walked, a new space was created through our warm, moving bodies and the wafting trails of smudge. The march ended at the Japanese Language School. Before they were interned in 1942, my mother, along with other Japanese Canadian children living in the Powell Street area, once filled the halls of this school learning about their culture, their language, and their history. On that cold, bright sunny day in Vancouver, the halls were filled again with generations, but now of many Nations of children, adults, Elders, as well as members of different communities gathering to commemorate the daughters, mothers, sisters, friends, and loved ones taken from this world, where we live today, as part of the continuing legacy of colonialism in Canada. This was a moving memorial, making a powerful statement in the present. In the Japanese Hall, now it was Aboriginal people who welcomed all with bannock, chili, and stories; it was they who created time, which on this day was the time of memorialization to remember those lost to us, but through this march, still and always present.


Kirsten Emiko McAllister comes from a family who brings together two different political and social worlds. Her mother’s family is Japanese Canadian, and her father is Scottish-German. She began exploring the wartime experiences of Japanese Canadians just after the National Association of Japanese Canadians negotiated a redress settlement with the Canadian government in 1988. In 1989 she ran the oral history project for the Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association (JCCA) of Vancouver, working closely with elders who brought to life worlds that no longer existed. The “return” to her mother’s community was as much about her own need to explore her place in the province’s terrain of memory as it was a matter of the community “re-claiming” her as a member of the postwar generation. Kirsten is currently Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University in the School of Communication. While there have been many important influences that have shaped her at an early age, including time she spent in the Philippines in the Canada World Youth Program learning about underdevelopment and colonialism, the wartime experiences of Japanese Canadians have had a strong, lasting effect. After completing her B.A. in Geography and her M.A. in Communication at SFU, she went to Ottawa for her Ph.D. at Carleton University. At Carleton her research focused on a memorial that Japanese Canadian elders built to mark the valley in where they were incarcerated during WWII with their history of injustice and their hopes for a future just society. She then travelled even further from the Pacific coast, across the Atlantic to England, to Lancaster University where she researched the photographs that Japanese Canadian internees took illicitly during the war, examining how they tried to instill meaning and a sense of future into the bleak spaces of incarceration. Kirsten eventually returned to the Pacific coast in 2003 where she currently lives and works.

  1. I’d like to thank and acknowledge the support and feedback of Ashok Mathur, the lead editor of this volume, who gave advice and encouragement over the months it took me to write this piece. My parents, Rosalie Chitose McAllister and Carey Douglas McAllister, patiently read through earlier drafts and provided details and accounts about my family’s history and my childhood years in Nanaimo. Dorothy Christian offered critical insights, especially regarding the political and philosophical statements derived from Mungo Martin’s work. As well, Dorothy Christian introduced me to the complexity and importance of working in what she refers to as “the cultural interface” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Here I’d like to acknowledge what I learned from working with Dorothy Christian while she was in the graduate program at SFU. See Dorothy Christian (2010) “A Cinema of Sovereignty”: Working in the Cultural Interface to Create a Model for Fourth World Film Pre-production and Aesthetics.” Unpublished M.A. thesis, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. I would like to thank and acknowledge the systematic and detailed feedback and corrections provided by Flora Kallies, Senior Research Officer, and Jane Hubbard, Research Officer, from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. I also want to thank and acknowledge Jonathan Dewar, Director of Research, and Wayne Spear, Director of Communications, at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for kindly providing information about the Kuper Island Residential School. And finally I must thank the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for inviting me to contribute to this volume. While I have received support from these learned and experienced people, all lapses and oversights are entirely mine and mine alone.
  2. He was also an esteemed painter, singer, songwriter, and teacher and had eight heredity names in addition to Naka’pankam. See: Nuytten, Phil (1982:107). The Totem Carvers: Charlie James, Ellen Neel, Mungo Martin. Vancouver, BC: Panorama Publications. For an account of his life and achievements with recollections by people who knew him and quotes by Martin himself, see: Nuytten (1982) as well as The B.C. Indian Arts Society (1982). Mungo Martin: Man of Two Cultures. Sidney, BC: Gray’s Publishing Limited.
  3. B.C. Indian Arts Society (1982:21); Nuytten (1982:104).
  4. Nuytten (1982:104). Phil Nuytten describes how Mungo Martin concluded the ceremony by giving the Lt. Governor-General a Kwakwaka’wakw name, Giutlas. This name was held by Martin’s great-grandmother’s father, and Nuytten explains that the name means “Everyone is always going in the same direction.” In addition, Nuytten notes the name Giutlas is similar in sound and meaning to a shortened version of Helen Hunt’s name, his adopted daughter and assistant and translator in ceremonies. See Nuytten (1982:105) and Helen Hunt in B.C. Indian Arts Society (1982:33–35). It would seem that by (re)naming the Queen’s representative, Martin Mungo incorporated him into an Indigenous system of jurisprudence, giving him a role equivalent to that of Helen Hunt who, as a chosen intermediary, communicated his statements on his behalf to other sovereigns and those outside his realm.
  5. Retrieved from the U’Mista Cultural Society website:
  6. Aboriginal Healing Foundation (1998:1). Funding Agreement: Aboriginal Healing Foundation and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
  7. Adachi, K. (1991). The Enemy That Never Was. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.; Miki, R. and C. Kobayashi (1991). Justice in Our Time: The Japanese Canadian Redress Settlement. Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks and National Association of Japanese Canadians; and Sunahara, A. Gomer (1981). The Politics of Racism: The Uprooting of Japanese Canadians During the Second World War. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer and Company.
  8. Academics and writers Rita Wong and Mona Oikawa are currently working on projects funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Research to explore these relations. Publications on earlier relations include: Haig-Brown, Celia and David A. Nock (2006). With Good Intentions: Euro-Canadian and Aboriginal Relations in Canada. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press; Perry, Adele (2001). On the Edge of Empire: Gender, Race, and the Making of British Columbia, 1849–1871. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
  9. Kelly, Fred (2008:22). Confession of a born again pagan. In Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald, and Mike DeGagné (eds.). From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools. Ottawa, ON: Aboriginal Healing Foundation: 11–40.
  10. We referred to our grandfather as Ojiisan and our grandmother as Obaasan.
  11. Lil’Wat people set up the roadblock in July 1990 on Duffy Lake Road (Lillooet Lake Road) and in February 1991 on the Ure Creek logging road.
  12. As a university student I remember when I first read the work of Frantz Fanon. See Fanon, F. (1967). Black Skin, White Masks. (Trans. C.L. Markmann). (Original work published 1952). New York, NY: Grove Press. I was amazed at finding a writer who captured what I have experienced so precisely. As a young man in his early twenties, Frantz Fanon wrote about how others perceived him and other black men from former French colonies, examining the patronizing, condescending, and dehumanizing manner in which white men and women regarded them through not just what was said but also how they would viscerally react to the very presence of their bodies or respond to their eloquence or knowledge about French philosophers. See his essays: “The Negro and Language” and “The Fact of Blackness” in his book, Black Skin, White Masks (1967).
  13. This became more clearly articulated for me through discussions that took place in my graduate 2010 seminar on memory and political violence. Graduate students included: Vincent Andrisani, Julia Aoki, Ayumi Mathur, Azin Mirsayah, Nawal Motut, Cynthia Oka, Olga Orda, Megan Robertson, Jennifer Schine, Elizabeth Schulze, Milan Singh, and Itrath Syed.
  14. Many have written about the power of looking. How you look at someone situates them in relation to you. See: Berger, John (1972). Ways of Seeing. London; Harmondsworth, UK: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books Limited. It can be a relation of respect or care, but it can also position the other as inhuman. Vivian Sobchack, for instance, refers to Audre Lorde’s autobiographical account of sitting on a bus when she was a small child. She notices a white woman in a fur hat looking down in her direction with disgust. As Sobchack recounts, seeing the woman’s look of disgust, Audre wonders what it is that is so repulsive and worries that there is something disgusting like a roach on her seat beside her and pulls her snowsuit closer, away from whatever is so disgusting. But then she realizes that the woman is in fact looking at her with repugnance. As Lorde recalls, “I don’t like to remember the cancellation and hatred, heavy as my wished-for death, seen in the eyes of so many white people from the time I could see.” In Lorde in Sobchack, Vivien (2004:197). Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Sobchack describes this look in terms of a “perceptual pathology of an other,” which is a cultural disease deeply embedded in our society. As a look that “eviscerated” Audre as a small black girl, it takes “away the certainty of the body?… [and gives
  15. Tennant, P. (1990:17). Aboriginal Peoples and Politics: The Indian Land Question in British Columbia, 1849–1989. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press.
  16. Tennant (1990)
  17. Canadian Citizenship Act, S.C. 1946, c.15 (the “1947 Act”).
  18. Thobani, Sunera (2007:97). Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race and Nation in Canada. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
  19. McLaren, Angus (1990). Our Own Master Race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885–1945. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Stewart; Stoler, Anne Laura (1995). Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things.Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  20. Retrieved from the Nanaimo African Heritage Society website:
  21. Peterson, Jan (2003). Hub City: Nanaimo: 1886–1920. Nanoose Bay, BC: Heritage House Publishing; Peterson, Jan (2006). Harbour City: Nanaimo in Transition, 1920–1967. Nanoose Bay, BC: Heritage House Publishing. Also see: Chong, Denise (1994). The Concubine’s Children: A Portrait of Family Divided. New York, NY: Viking.
  22. Retrieved from the Nanaimo Chinatowns Project website:
  23. A gurdwara is a Sikh temple.
  24. Thobani (2007:314, note 115).
  25. Peterson (2005:19).
  26. Peterson (2006:19).
  27. Peterson (2006:20).
  28. Kelm, Mary-Ellen (1998). Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia 1900–50. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press; Fournier, Suzanne and Ernie Crey (1997). Stolen From Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. Vancouver, BC: Douglas and McIntyre; Thomas, Qwul’sih’yah’maht, R. (2005). Honouring the Oral Traditions of My Ancestors through Storytelling. In L. Brown and S. Strega (eds.). Research as Resistance: Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-oppressive Approaches. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.: 237–254.
  29. Campbell, P.C. and C. Welsh (1997). Kuper Island: Return to the Healing Circle [Film/DVD
  30. MS-1267 Finding Aid: volume list for the Kuper Island Indian Industrial School, British Columbia Archives.
  31. Kelm (1998:60).
  32. Milloy, John S. (1999:317). A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press; Miller, J. R. (1996:286). Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.
  33. Jonathan Dewar sent me this information researched by Wayne Spear of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in an email dated 29 October 2010.
  34. Indian and Northern Affairs (no date). Update to the Indian Act (retrieved 11 January 2011 from: The Indian Act still contains the provisions that past Ministers have used to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their homes, which can still be used to this day.
  35. Retrieved from the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre website:
  36. Despite his repulsion for “church,” my father does remind me that he taught a Sunday school class at the United Church where he took children on field trips to the seashore to explore tide pools with stories pulled from novels and scientific analyses of the composition of everyday objects.
  37. As we were growing up, my father’s work as an oceanographer for the federal fisheries meant he met and worked with representatives of various First Nations. While these events took place twenty-five or more years ago, and he has told me his memory of names may not be accurate, the events, the testimonies, and magnificent rebuttals and political brilliance and knowledge of the Indigenous representatives remain vivid in his mind. His accounts of these events left strong impressions on me even before the era of “identity politics” in the late 1980s. With his family’s socialist roots, despite being employed by the federal government, he has always been cynically critical of government and corporations. His stories about the hearings and negotiations instilled in me a sense of awed respect as he recounted the political intelligence and strategy, the oratory, and rhetorical power of their leaders as well as their tolerance for him as a federal fisheries employee and kindness towards him as a person.
  38. I feel I should say something to give some context for her return to Vancouver, back to that traumatic site where so many Japanese Canadians lived up until 1942 when Prime Minister MacKenzie King enacted the War Measures Act to classify them as enemy aliens who were threats to national security. After the war, for many Japanese Canadians, it was not possible to return to Vancouver. Some, like my mother’s family, managed to evade the orders to leave British Columbia in 1945. Several years after the restrictions on their movement back to British Columbia were lifted, some families had managed to save enough to send their older children to the coast where they could find work and enroll in training and education programs in an attempt to start integrating into the vastly changed postwar economy. These young people also laid the grounds for their parents and younger siblings to return to Vancouver and re-establish themselves back on the coast. So, like other young Nisei, my mother and also my aunt, though the family makes few references to her in this period, travelled to the coast.
  39. They were in a “self-support” camp, which meant they leased the land where they were interned from a local landowner, Mr. Palmer. They also paid for all the costs of their internment using their savings and funds from enterprises they managed to run, like the farming collective set up by internees. This was different than the government­-support camps where the Department of Labour leased the land and ran the camps, making it straightforward for the administrators to terminate the leases, dismantle the shacks, and arrange for the transportation to remove Japanese Canadians from these camps in 1945.
  40. Retrieved from the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law website:
  41. See Order-in-Council 1665 (1942, March 4), whereby the property and belongings of Japanese Canadians are entrusted to the Custodian of Enemy Property as a protective measure; Order-in-Council 5523, whereby the Director of Soldier Settlement can lease or purchase farms owned by Japanese Canadians; and Order-in-Council 469 gives the Custodian of Enemy Alien property the right to dispose of Japanese Canadian properties without their consent.
  42. The definitions for pity, empathy, and sympathy are from The Concise Oxford Dictionary (6th ed.). (1976). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Emphasis in original).
  43. Bennett, Jill (2006:8). Empathetic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
  44. The first march was held in 1991.