British Columbia Premier John Horgan on Saturday committed a $100 million endowment to address the lasting effects of the internment of Japanese Canadians in the province during World War II.
Horgan made the announcement Saturday from the Steveston Martial Arts Centre, the oldest Japanese-style dojo in North America, in Richmond, British Columbia.
It comes on the 80th anniversary of the first arrivals of Japanese Canadians at the Greenwood, Kaslo, New Denver, Slocan City and Sandon internment camps in 1942.
“This endowment will not change the past, but it will ensure that the generations who are still with us, and those who will come after, will have the opportunity to see something positive come out of what was clearly a very, very dark time in our collective stories,’ Horgan said during Saturday’s press conference.
The province said in a press release more than 90 percent of Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were detained and stripped of their homes, property and businesses during World War II.
The endowment, which will be provided through the National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), will support health and wellness programs for internment-era survivors, restoration of heritage sites, creating a monument to honor survivors; and updating the province’s school curriculum. to reflect this history.
NAJC president Lorene Oikawa said in Saturday’s announcement that about 22,000 Japanese Canadians have been forcibly uprooted in British Columbia.
“They had nothing and they had to start over. And they did. It’s very personal, it’s my family. It’s your families,” Oikawa said.
The province says the funding builds on the government’s apology for wrongs committed in the B.C. Legislative Assembly in 2012 and responds to a 2021 reparations proposal put forward by the NAJC.
The province says around 6,000 people who were interned are alive today. One of them, 87-year-old internment camp survivor Keiko Mary Kitagawa, spoke at Saturday’s announcement.
Kitagawa, who was born on Salt Spring Island, said her family and community members lost their fishing boats, farms, businesses, homes, personal items and vehicles, among other things.
“It was legalized theft,” Kitagawa said.
Memories of her father kidnapped by the RCMP in 1942, when she was only seven years old, came flooding back.
“All the pain kept coming back to me…it’s a trauma I can’t get rid of,” Kitagawa said.
After six months of physical labor doing roadwork, Kitagawa’s father was given the opportunity to reunite with his family, but on the condition that they move to Alberta to work on a sugar beet farm.
“Farming sugar beets is really like slavery. It was hard work and we lived in this tiny shack, really not suitable for humans,” Kitagawa said.
Their whole family, including children and retired grandparents, were forced to grow sugar beets.
The family was moved to various internment camps in Alberta and British Columbia until 1949, when the government granted freedom to Japanese Canadians.
“Much like my grandparents lost the pleasure of a retirement, which they worked for all their lives,” Kitagawa said. “Much like my parents lost the most productive years of their lives.”