Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC) President Art Miki at the signing of the Redress, September 22, 1988. Photo credit: Nikkei National Museum 2010.32.28
September 22nd marks the 27th anniversary of the Redress settlement between the federal government and Japanese Canadians: the culmination of their struggle to achieve federal acknowledgement and compensation for the injustices caused to them before and after the Second World War.
Over 22,000 Japanese Canadians were uprooted, interned, and dispossessed during the 1940s on the basis of their race. The vast majority were Canadians citizens, guilty of no wrongdoing. Despite the achievement of Redress, Canadians have not fully confronted this past. This is something that Vivian Rygnestad and Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross, Landscapes of Injustice Community Council chairperson and Project Director respectively, would like to change.
Rygnestad is one of 2500 Japanese Canadians who were born during their internment. In the 1980s she joined other survivors of that experience in the crowded living rooms that became the wellspring of the Redress movement. Almost 40 years later, she’s given her support to Landscapes of Injustice, a seven-year, 5.5 million dollar research project that examines the dispossession of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.
“The Landscapes project brings unprecedented attention to the dispossession of Japanese-Canadian-owned property. A partnership of Japanese Canadians and non-Japanese Canadians, it represents a new stage in the longer history of Redress,” explains Rygnestad. Now in its second year, Landscapes is revealing dimensions of the seizure and forced sale of Japanese Canadian property that have never been addressed. Details of the origins, unfolding, and impacts of these events continue to come to light, explains Stanger-Ross.
“[Redress] was a political realizing,” Rygnestad recalls. Following internment, Japanese Canadians “needed to overcome a sense of alienation from Canada… [they] needed to rebuild their lives. Redress brought people together and restored pride to the Japanese Canadian community.”
For Dr. Stanger-Ross, it has been “inspiring and humbling” to realize that the Landscapes project is part of that same process today. “The vision of the project as an heir to Redress” he observes, has been one of the powerful contributions of the project’s Community Council. Made up of established and emerging leaders in the Japanese-Canadian community, the council plays an advisory and consultative role on the project. Many members of the council participated in the campaign for Redress themselves.
Following its research phase, Landscapes will produce teaching resources, online materials, and a traveling exhibit that will hold its 2021 finale at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria.
Rygnestad hopes that placing the experiences of Japanese Canadians into public education as part of Canada’s history will help people understand the political climate at the time and “make sure it doesn’t happen today.”
Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross, Project Director, will present the project at the National Association of Japanese Canadians AGM on Saturday, September 26. The Landscapes of Injustice Community Council, led by Vivian Rygnestad, will subsequently comment and reflect on their work with the project thus far.