Roger Kishi, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 10 April 2018

Roger Kishi, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 10 April 2018

Abstract
Roger Kishi’s father was interned in Christina Lake and his mother in Greenwood. In this interview, Roger explains that his paternal grandfather was a boatbuilder in Steveston and that his father built boats during the internment. Roger speaks about how his parents did not talk about internment, and his immediate and extended family also did not share their experiences. Roger narrates how as a teenager and early adult, he learned about this history during the Redress movement through books and documentaries. He explains that he cannot speak Japanese and feels he has lost his culture. He believes that it is important to record this history, to make sure it does not get lost, to acknowledge the wrongs in Canada’s past, and to focus on fighting discrimination of any kind. Roger recalls how his position as a community council member in Cumberland has led him to discover layers of this history: racism in mining records; the desecration of the Japanese gravesite after dispossession; Florence Bell ’s class photographs in 1941 and ‘42 showing the loss of Japanese Canadian school children; and more. He describes an important connection for him that came in the early 2000s when he discovered the Campbell River Museum had a boat his paternal grandfather had built and sold to a Japanese Canadian family: the family sold the boat before seizure but bought it back in 1949 after they returned to the coast, fished it until the 70s, and then tied it up until the museum took possession and restored it. Even though dispossession is a hard history, he believes we must acknowledge and preserve it.
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Carolyn Nakagawa (CN)
This is Carolyn Nakagawa. I'm here with Roger Kishi in Cumberland. It's April 10, 2018, and we're recording Roger's oral history for the Landscapes of Injustice project. So Roger, I'll just start off by asking you to tell me about your family's history with the forced removal?
Roger Kishi (RK)
Well it's both my parents' family that experienced it. So my dad would have been a teenager when it happened, and my mom was a little bit younger than that. Well, my mom was born in 1931 and my dad was born in 1926—so they were adolescents when it happened. The Kishi family, which is my dad's family, was interned to Christina Lake, and my mom's family, her maiden name was Otani, they went to Greenwood. And sort of my knowledge or experience, or I guess knowledge of the experience of it, is quite limited. My parents didn't really share much information about it. And my awareness really of the interment really didn't start to, I guess develop, until almost at the point where the federal apology for the interment and the Redress process was near its end. Or at its completion. So, you know, my parents didn't share a lot of the information, and even when I would ask or my other siblings would ask, there wasn't a lot of information that was shared. The little bits and pieces that are there from my dad's family is that my grandfather was a boat builder in Steveston. He managed to, I guess it's almost like transfer his boat building business to Christina Lake. He managed to somehow take most of his tools with him to Christina Lake. And my dad has shared that he can remember as a teenager going with his father into the woods around Christina Lake, and they would cut down trees and then they would go and get them milled, and my grandfather would build boats during the war while they were in Christina Lake. And the stories are is that during the interment, there were two or three boats that were actually built, that were shipped back down to the coast to someone, I guess, who had bought them. But, you know, again I don't know if there's any records or anything of where those boats went to or how it actually happened. The Japanese were pretty controlled during the war, so I don't know if they could rent a rail car to ship something, Laughs. but the stories are that's what happened. My mom's family, there really wasn't—the only thing that my mom has shared is that it wasn't pleasant in Greenwood. The only thing that she really shared was that the only reason that they had the school was because of the nuns that moved up to Greenwood from Vancouver, to open a school for, I guess, for the Japanese kids that were there. So I can't remember which order of sisters it was, but they used to run a mission in the Downtown Eastside. And there was one of the sisters that I can remember that my mom would go and visit her, even in the 70s until she passed away. But I think that that order of sisters has shrunk even smaller, so I don't even know if they have a presence anymore in Vancouver, in the Downtown Eastside. So that's really most of the knowledge that I've been able to sort of gain about what my parents experiences were. And I guess, like a lot of Japanese Canadian families, a lot of it wasn't shared with families. I think that's why it's important to do a project like this, is to try and gather that information that is out there. And so that there is a record of it.
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RK
You know, I've had some thoughts about it, because I've never learned Japanese. So I don't speak the language. A lot of the customs have been westernized. But when my grandmother on my dad's side, she lived till she was almost one hundred. And she lived in Steveston with my dad's older brother. So she tried to do a lot of the old traditions. So she had the big display for Girls’ Day. She had all the dolls, and she had all the kites and everything for Boys’ Day. And things like that. You know, there would always be lots of, you know, whenever there were any kinds of celebrations, there would be lots of Japanese food, and things like that. And some of that still continues on in our family. Not so much about celebrating the Boys’ Day and Girls’ Day. I don't know what happened to all that, all those, all the dolls and stuff for Boys’ and Girls’ Day. I'm sure that my maybe my cousins or my aunts in Steveston still have it. But, you know, I've thought about it, about you know, in some ways, of myself losing my culture, or not being aware of my culture. And you know, sometimes I sort of thought about it as, I guess it was, my parents just wanted us to fit in to Canadian society. So they didn't want us to be different. They just wanted us to fit in the mainstream. So that's what they did. So whether or not that was, you know I don't think that they wanted to block anything, but they just did what they thought was the best for their family. And I don't think that we have—Well I guess that the only thing that I would think that maybe I have suffered is a lot of awareness of my culture and language and things like that. But, I don't know. You can't change that. But you know, I think that things are, you know there's more awareness about what’s happened about the interment, and I think about a lot of other events that have happened in Canada as well. You know, right now with First Nations' people and reconciliation. I think that that's another wrong in Canada's history. That a lot of people still don't have an awareness about it. And you know, somehow we just need to be able to I guess save the information that's out there and to utilize it to generate more awareness about things that have gone on, like the interment and residential schools, and like the treatment of the Doukhobours, the Komagata Maru, and all those other things that are part of Canada's history. So I think you have to acknowledge it. I don't think that we necessarily want to celebrate them, but I think that you still have to have an acknowledgement of that's what happened. Well, for a lot of them it's like, okay you've acknowledged it, but then you want to say that we don't want to repeat that. But unfortunately, you look around the world and things like these are continuing to happen around the world. So. . . Yeah. It’s you know, yeah. And even today now, because we're so connected to the whole world, I think it's important that that kind of information is I guess archived, or collected.
00:10:41.000
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CN
I want to take it back to your own experience of learning about your family's history. Do you remember the first time that you were aware that this forced removal had happened?
RK
It probably would have been when I was a teenager, as well, because that would have been, well in 1988 I would have been—well no.
CN
I think a lot of the public conversation around Redress started in the early 80s.
RK
Yeah, yeah. So I would have been almost like in my late teens. Like finishing high school and things like that. And maybe even at that time there might have been a little piece in school about it, but it would have just been, you know, a part of the history of WWII and oh, then this happened. Right. But yeah, I think up until then it really wasn't, well it really wasn't, you know, there wasn't a lot of discussion I think, generally, in society. And there certainly wasn't a lot of discussion within my immediate family and even within the extended family, aunts and uncles and things like that. Now my dad's mother, my grandmother, she didn't speak English. And I'm not sure if she came to Canada just as a bride, like I think that my dad's father came and his mother might have come over as just a bride. So she always—She didn't learn English. So I think that my grandmother you know was, well, how many kids did she have? She had five kids. And she was tiny, she was like four-foot-two. But she never learned English. I don't think she ever worked outside of the home. And I guess she would have been busy enough with five kids. And one of her children was actually born during the internment, in Christina Lake. And so, I have an Aunt Christina, who's still alive. And I think I mentioned on the phone last week, that Florence, my mother-in-law, was doing the internment camp tour, and they stopped at a museum in Christina Lake and there was a picture of the first Japanese girl born in Christina Lake. There was no name attributed to it, but I'm sort of thinking, “Oh it must be my Aunt Christina.” Because she was born in Christina Lake. I don't know how, you know, the timing seems to fit right. But I don't think the museum had—Well they didn't have a name on the picture or anything else like that. So a lot of the knowledge or information that I've sort of come to know about the interment is about books that have been written about it and documentaries and things like that around it. There hasn't been a lot of experience-sharing within the family. Pauses. And I haven't actively gone out to research that information. But if it becomes available then I'm interested in it. And there's other things that happened that come up that are interesting in the family history and the result of the interment.
00:15:32.000
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RK
I mentioned last week, when we spoke, about this boat that's up in the Campbell River Museum. And there was a Japanese Canadian family that they had an old fish boat that they donated to the museum. And this was in, well this would have been in the early 2000s. Anyways, the boat was still tied up at the dock, but the water was almost over the sides. It was really old. And I saw this article that this boat had been donated by this Japanese Canadian family to the museum, so I called the museum and I said, “Oh, is there more information about this boat?” And it turned out that this boat was actually built by my grandfather in 1935, sold to this family, and the family had brought it up to Campbell River and they had fished it. The story that the museum has is that they managed to sell the boat before it was seized, and then they were interned. And then they were one of the families that actually came back to the coast in 1949, and they bought the boat back from whoever they sold it to and they actually fished the boat until the 70s, and then from the 70s until almost 2000 it sort of sat, tied up. So I connected with the museum and they were interested in that, so they invited us to the unveiling of the boat. It took them about two years to restore the boat. And I was able to take my dad to the unveiling of the boat. So the boat is at the entrance—it's outside—but it's at the entrance of the museum in Campbell River. So I took my dad to that ceremony. My dad's two brothers actually ran the boathouse business in Steveston until the early 80s, maybe the mid 80s. My dad's younger brother actually passed, but my dad's older brother was still alive, but his health was not good, so he couldn't come up for that celebration. But my dad was really interested in it, and I think he really enjoyed coming up to see that. I don't know if he would have remembered anything about that boat when it was being built, like my dad would have been nine or ten years old. So I don't know what he would have remembered. So even things that kind of come up like that, sometimes they're—You know, I'm able to find out, “Okay, well there is some kind of connection to that.” To my family or to other things. So it's quite, quite interesting. And there's an interesting story, and you'll hear more about it from Florence when you interview her about some of the Japanese families here in Cumberland. There is a connection. One of Flo's friends, her name was May Doi, and that family was interned in 1942. But then my partner, Catherine, who's Flo's daughter, knows May's daughter through being a Vice President with BCGEU. And that other person is Lorene Oikawa.
00:19:42.000
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CN
Oh.
RK
So Lorene is actually the president of the JCCA. Or the current president of the JCCA. So Catherine and Lorene know each other through the union. And Florence and May knew each other as children being here in Cumberland, before the internment. And that was an interesting connection, too. That connection didn't really happen until, oh I don't know, maybe in the late 1990s or so, the mid to late 1990s. And we still stay in touch withLorene and there still is the active—no, it's not an active Japanese community here, but the history of the community is still present. The No. 1 Japanese Town site is preserved as a park. And in my time here and being on the council for the village of Cumberland, you know we're doing projects to maintain the history of the Japanese presence here. We actually just got some funding to do an interpretive trail and an interpretive signage of the No. 1 Japanese Town site. There's been projects in the past too to plant cherry trees in the No. 1 Japanese Town site. That was funded by families that used to live here and other Japanese Canadian associations and things like that. And then every year, the Steveston Buddhist Temple does an Obon Tour of Vancouver Island. And Cumberland is one of the bigger stops because there is , well I don't know what you want to call it, it is a monument or a cairn or something, but the Japanese cemetery here in Cumberland was desecrated during the interment. Like the tombstones were knocked over and some of them were thrown over the side of the hill and things like that. But somebody had the wherewithal that time to collect up a lot of the grave markers, and they were kept, I don't know where, somewhere within the village itself. But in 1975, as a centennial project, the village and I don't know, they partnered with some Japanese Canadian organization, so they've created this monument or cairn. So there is a concrete stand and all the gravestones are all mounted on this stand. Because there wasn't any accurate mapping of the graves in the Japanese cemetery. So no one knew which grave marker to put on which grave. If you go to the site today you can see by the sunken indentations in the ground, you can see where there is likely graves. But because it wasn't mapped, we actually don't know who is actually buried in there. Well, it wasn't mapped, and I don't know if there is an accurate registry either. And even if there was, whether or not if it survived the internment.Whether it was kept, or whatever. So there's those things that are still going on here in Cumberland. So in a little way, I'm part of that as well. So it's an interesting history here in Cumberland. There were quite large Japanese businesses here prior to the war. Well you can't see it today, but there's a little mountain over there. You can see it has some kind of transmission tower and lights flashing on it. And in my time in that I've been here in Cumberland, well that mountain was named Japanese Mountain. But in the late 90s, it was renamed Nikkei Mountain. Just to, you know, well. I don't know. There's a lot of—I think that a lot of people around here in Cumberland in the old days, you know a lot of people had nicknames. And there are a lot of weird names. There's another cairn up the road going to Comox Lake, and it acknowledges the black community that was here. And that was known as “Coon” Town, you know. And those communities for like the—Well the Asians that were here, there were Chinese and Japanese. So there was a Chinatown and a Japanese Town. And they were right next door to each other. But the land that they got to build their communities were swamps. So they had to reclaim the swamps to build their communities.
00:25:23.000
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RK
And then the black community was right next to it. And even the civic cemetery here in Cumberland is divided between Catholics and Protestants, you know. And then the Japanese and Chinese cemeteries is about a mile away from the civic cemetery. But there is a lot of interesting history here too about that. There were thriving Japanese and Chinese communities around here in the Comox Valley, and there's not very much left of it anymore. Well, I guess the way you can explain it for the Japanese was around internment. A lot of them, well people were interned and they didn't come back. Even in the whole Comox Valley, I don't think very many Japanese Canadian families came back after the interment. There is a sort of Nikkei association here in the Comox Valley in Campbell River. But most of the people that are part of it aren't second, third, or fourth generation Japanese Canadians. A lot of them are Japanese immigrants who have come to Canada. And I sort of connected a little bit with them, but even for them, a lot of them don't have a lot of understanding of the internment. Because I think even in Japan, I think that there's not very much knowledge about it. I guess I like to be involved in some way in trying to create more awareness about what the experiences were, even though I don't have any of those experiences. But you know, it's really around creating that awareness and hopefully that that awareness will help to prevent anything like that ever happening again. Oh yeah and I sent you that thing about that poster that the BCGEU did about the pictures from the elementary school here, and Flo's actually in those pictures. Flo and her sister and her brother are in those pictures. About the 1941—I don't even think, I guess it's a class picture for grades five or six or something like that. Of the Minto School, near here in Cumberland. So in 1941 there are lots of Japanese children in the picture. And then in the 1942 class picture there's none. And the school was, you know, half of the school disappeared. And those pictures we found in this big chest that Florence's sister had in her house. And we're going through them one day and I just saw them and went, “Oh.” You know this is, well I thought anyways, it was a very powerful image of 1941, lots of Japanese kids, 1942, none. So, at that time, I talked to a woman, her name was Carol Adams. She was the communications person at the BCGEU. And she was actually mixed heritage of First Nations and Japanese. And I said, “I think this would make a really interesting poster.” So she went with it and did that poster. And it actually won an anti-racism award. So that poster, I can't remember what year it was, but anyways. At that time the province did these multiculturalism awards. Or at the time there were actually more of anti-racism awards. Now, it sort of morphed into multiculturalism awards. You know, we'll see if it changes back to focus around anti-racism instead of multiculturalism. Because there is a nuance, I think, between yes we should celebrate diversity and multiculturalism, but we also need to discuss discrimination. Not just anti-racism, but discrimination in any form.
00:30:47.000
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RK
And that's some of the stuff that I've done in my past though the labour movement and through politics, as well, is around addressing discrimination and inequities and things like that. For seven years I was either chair or co-chair of the Visible Minority Committee for the Federal New Democrats. So when I started doing that, this would have been in, oh, the early 2000s anyways, is to address the issue of recruiting candidates. We developed a candidate selection process where you had to have a candidate running for the nomination, from an equity seeking group, before the federal party would approve that that nomination race could take place. And there was a lot of push-back. People were saying, “Oh well we're just looking for the best candidate.” And we're saying, “Well, no but we want to at least work towards trying to increase diversity.” So that policy still stands within the Federal NDP, and I think it was the right thing to do. Whether or not it is working. I think it has helped, because I think at least there is more diversity in people running for elected office now. It's not happening so much here in the Comox Valley in that in all the local municipal governments here, I'm the only non-caucasian person elected to a council. I see that all of this stuff does link together. The paid work that I do right now, I work at the Wachiay Friendship Centre here in the Comox Valley, and it's an aboriginal friendship centre. I've worked there now for almost fourteen years, but that's also another I guess connection that I sort of have, is around working towards trying to make, well not make, but trying to create our society to be more inclusive, and more diverse, and things like that. So there's lots of stuff that brings it all together.
CN
Thank you so much for that. I wanted to ask you about certain places. Like you mentioned your grandmother was in Steveston and you had uncles who continued Kishi Boatworks in Steveston. Do you have memories of visiting Steveston as a child?
00:34:39.000
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RK
Yeah, yeah. Well, my parents were living in Vancouver when I was born. So I was in Vancouver. But then my dad got transferred to Edmonton. My dad was a structural engineer, and so my sister was born in Edmonton. And then we moved to Calgary, because my dad got transferred to Calgary. And then my mom didn't like living in Alberta, because all of the family was here on the West Coast So we ended up moving back to the West Coast, but we ended up living in North Vancouver, so we were still separated from the relatives in Steveston. But we would go there often, and there would be times that we would, like my parents would go on vacation without the kids, and we would stay at my aunt and uncles and my grandmother's house in Steveston. And we would go to some of the things that were going on in Steveston as well, because they have the different festivals and things like that. So we would occasionally go to them as well. But we'd always go to grandmother's and my aunt and uncle's house for New Years, for the big feast, I guess. It's mostly around the food, I think. Laughs. But it's also the celebration. And occasionally we would—like my direct family, we weren't involved religiously with the Buddhist Church or any other church—but in Steveston, every once in a while we would go because there was a Buddhist funeral or something like that. So we would go to the temple. So for my dad's brother, and for some other family members, too, they followed the Buddhist tradition of the doing memorials. I can't remember what the sequence is, it's like one, three, and seven years and something, where they do the memorials. So that, I guess, is part of the culture of that. Yeah so there was very limited involvement with that, as well. And I guess I try and stay connected here when we participate every year with the Obon Tour that comes through Cumberland. And in fact, the last few years that I've been in the council, council has actually hosted the tour that has come up from the Steveston temple. And we invite them for lunch, and you have lunch, and then we go and do the Obon ceremony out at the cemetery. So there's little things like that that I guess I'm still keeping connected to. Pauses. And in some ways the museum here in Cumberland is also done a pretty good job in trying to record that history. So there is stuff on display at the museum here. And even with the Chinese history here in Cumberland too, it's another really interesting story, particularly just around the Chinese cemetery. Because there is a Chinese cemetery. And actually what happened is that there were two families that actually purchased the land that the Chinese cemetery is on from Dunsmuir, and the Bill of Sale was actually in the museum. So these families had title to it, and when they wanted to transfer it—and this is recent, like this is in the last four or five years—those families wanted to transfer the land to the village to maintain in perpetuity. Well, when the village did a title search, that sale of land was never actually registered in the land registry. It was still part of the E&N land grant. So luckily the bill of sale was in the museum. So we had to go through the courts to have this land transfer recognized, and have it entered in the land registry. So now the village has title to the land and there is an agreement that the village will maintain this as a Chinese cemetery in perpetuity.
00:40:12.000
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RK
And in fact, if people want to bury—Well burials are still okay in that cemetery because of the Chinese tradition, or the old tradition was that they dug up the bones after, I can't think how many years it was, it was like seven years, and they would try and send it back to China. And I've heard stories that within the BC Archives there are basically crates and crates of these Chinese bones, that because there was no immigration and nothing going back and forth with China, but these bones are sitting in the BC Archives. They never made it back to China. But it's another sort of interesting piece around the Asian history, too. And I'm not quite sure what the relationships were between the Chinese and the Japanese back in the 1800s, but there was also that Japanese photographer here in Cumberland, too. And the museum actually has a big collection of their class plates. Well the Nikkei Centre had them on display a couple years ago. So, yeah there's lots of pictures of Chinese families, too, that did portraits. And some of the portraits are sort of weird looking because people are dressed up in Western garb and they've got weird backgrounds. But there were I think two if not three Japanese men that ran, or operated, a photography studio here in Cumberland as well. So that history is maintained as well. And is in the archive here in Cumberland. And the tiny museum here has actually digitized them all, so people can actually access those photographs online through the Cumberland museum website. Which is important. Like this project, in making it accessible so people can look at it. If people are researching or they’re just interested, they can just find it. Thanks to Google, I guess. Laughs.
CN
So how long have you lived in Cumberland?
RK
I've been here now since about, well around 1999/2000. So for a Cumberlander, I'm a newcomer. Laughs. You know, even though it's almost been twenty years.
CN
It seems like you have a really deep connection though to the history of the place?
RK
Yeah, yeah. And I think part of that is because of my connection with my spouse, Catherine, and then her mom, Florence. You know, there's been a lot of connection with that. And there's a lot of history that sort of continues on through Cumberland. Like this May, on Victoria Day, Cumberland has been celebrating Victoria Day for years. Well this year is 130th Celebration of Victoria Day's here in Cumberland. So Marianne who just came in and is sitting there with Flo, Marianne’s on the committee for Victoria Days. But that's been going on for 130 years. In June, there's the Minors Memorial Weekend. Actually this year, 2018, is the centenary of the death of Ginger Goodwin, he was a labour activist. He was actually killed here in the bushes in Cumberland, well right near the end of the First World War because he was a conscientious objector. So there's lots of stories and controversies about how he was killed. Because a provincial constable apparently tracked him down and then he was shot. So there's lots of history around that. But you know, even around the history of mining, Ginger Goodwin was a labour activist. And then there's the history of the Japanese and the Chinese and the black people who were brought to Cumberland to work in the mines. And there's a history, and you can see it in the museum of the different wage rates that were based on race.
00:45:30.000
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RK
And in fact, some of the markers for some of the mine disasters, it would have the names of the caucasians and then it would say “Five Chinese workers” or “Two Japanese workers” and you know, so there wasn't the same acknowledgement of the death of those workers. And that was just the reality of the time. Like I've already said, is that we need to acknowledge that. To say “Well that was wrong, so we should get rid of it.” Well I would say “No, we need to acknowledge that and recognize that. And acknowledge that that was wrong and we just don't want to do it anymore.” But this whole community has got a lot of history with it, and a lot of it has been preserved—the good and the bad. So our challenge today here in this community is how do we maintain that, how do we sustain that, because we are experiencing growth. We are bucking the trend in the Comox Valley in that, for a lot of people here in the Comox Valley, they think, “Oh, retirement community.” Well that's not happening here in Cumberland, it's young families with kids that are moving to Cumberland now. And a lot of people are moving here because of lifestyle. I think they like the small town, and I think a lot of people do like to see that that history is being maintained here. But they also want the same kind of amenities that they can get in Vancouver, which we don't have here. So that’s a challenge being on council is how do we do that, how do we try and maintain our history and our past but also grow. You know, some people like to think that, that really want some things to just stay the same, I say to them, “Well, you know, if things didn't change, if there wasn't change, we wouldn't have history. We'd just be living in that period.” Change actually, I guess, creates history. So we just need to figure out how do we sustain it and still have change that is going to benefit the community. I think that that's not just the little village of Cumberland that is facing that, I think that's all around the world that people are trying to figure out how do we do that. And it's not just around history, it's around the environment, the economy, and everything else. It's that, well, things change. Change is difficult, and some of it's actually not all good. But how do you determine what's good and what's bad? I don't know. We're human beings and we make mistakes and we're not perfect, and hopefully we can make the right decisions and go in the right directions, but sometimes we are going to make mistakes and we are going to make errors. Hopefully we learn from them. But sometimes things will happen that aren't always good. Or they might actually do harm. But hopefully we learn from that.
00:50:28.000
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CN
So Cumberland, the Japanese Canadian history here. Do you feel a personal connection to it as a Japanese Canadian or is it more part of a general connection to Cumberland as a community?
RK
I think it's both. Because I sort of have my individual presence here, but then also because I'm on council, I have to I guess look at the community's best interest as well, not just my own. So I think that there is both around that. Pauses. Yeah, I don't know what more to say around that. Because there are other people that are involved in it, as well. As well as the museum, the village, we have a heritage commission. There's a lot of individuals too that are involved in different things. There is a very active arts and culture community here in Cumberland, and in the Comox Valley. And that's different forms of art and music. You know, there's lots of writers around here too and things like that, so there are lots of creative things that go on as well. So there's a lot of people that are involved in that. And I just like to keep my fingers in it, somehow. Not wanting to sort of lead it or control it, but just to be a participant in it.
CN
Can you think of any times when you were aware that you had a different perspective on something as a Japanese Canadian?
RK
Yeah, I guess so. Even though my parents didn't share a lot of the experience with me, I think that it was, it is still part of my makeup in that I think that there is probably, even with the internment, there is the sort of intergenerational carryover of it. And I think that part of that has led me to where I work right now, is working with an urban Aboriginal organization. Well in history, there was a lot of solidarity and connections between First Nations and not just Japanese Canadians, but I think with Asians, too. Particularly in the fishing industry. Whether it was the actually fishing in the boats or whether it was working in the canneries or the net lofts and things like that, is that First Nations and the Chinese and the Japanese, well they were both discriminated in those industries. Well and even in organized labour—the labour movement. They weren't allowed to join the mainstream labour organizations until quite some time on. So I think that that has sort of led me, I guess sort of my experience, even though it's not direct experience, but sort of the intergenerational piece of it is that I, and this is myself, is I see there is a lot of similarities between the shared experience of First Nations people and Japanese Canadians.
00:55:17.000
00:55:17.000
RK
I think that residential schools is much more impactful on First Nation people, but I think that the interment has a lot of similarities where just because based on race, people were forcibly uprooted. And lost so much. And I think probably with the internment as well, there was... Well I don't know if there is anything in any of the literature, but I don't know if there was the intention as well with the internment, where there was just a security issue or whether it was basically get rid of the culture as well. Which is what residential schools were doing. They were trying to get the indigineity out of the child. Whether or not that was part of it as well, but I guess I see that there is a similarity between the experience. Whether there were shared experiences and solidarity between First Nations and Japanese Canadians. Which I think that's what sort of led me to where I'm working now, you know where I've been working for the last fourteen years. But there's just so much more to do to raise awareness I think in the society as a whole. So it's still a work in progress, you know. Things like what this project is doing is, like I said at the beginning, is important to record that history and to make sure that it doesn't get lost. Even though it's not the greatest history, but it's important that it be recorded. I guess even the piece about what this project is around the disposition of properties. I don't have any—I don't know for sure for properties, how much my dad's family or my moms' family, I don't know what a dollar value is or I don't know even what kinds of or what property they lost. I can only imagine, “Well they lost their house, they lost furniture, they lost family heirlooms.” In the Japanese Town site here, if you go and dig around in there, people still dig up stuff. And Flo will tell you stories about even during the internment, I guess, a lot of people they just—The Japanese families when they left, they thought “Oh, this will be for a couple months or something.” So they buried a lot of their stuff. But as well as the cemetery that was desecrated, people would go in there and dig up the stuff and take it, right. So as for what the items were, the property that was disposed of or even the dollar values, I personally don't have any idea what that would be, even for my parent’s immediate families. I guess during the Redress there was some kind of accounting or auditing that was done, and I think that some people have tried to—I don't know whether it was a part of this project, or the beginning of this project, where they were trying to update that accounting that was done during the Redress process, you know. But, yeah. I guess that piece isn't going to change what happened, and I don't know if with the Redress and the compensation that individuals did get, even back in 1988 that wasn't going to—financially it wasn't going to make people whole from it.
01:00:35.000
01:00:35.000
RK
And so, I don't think anybody is really saying right now, “Oh well, there needs to be more compensation.” Because I don't know how you would calculate it, and whether or not there would be any political will to do that, anyways. Because it's been done. But it was interesting that those, that the people that really drove the Redress process, a lot of people don't know who they are, either. Recently I've seen some things on TV and stuff like that about that process, because this year I guess is the 20th anniversary.
CN
30th.
RK
30th, 30th yeah. 30th anniversary of it. And then there were people in the Japanese Canadian community that didn't think that Redress was the right way to go. People probably like my parents who just thought, “Well no, we just need to fit in. We don't need to be in the spotlight,” or whatever. But yeah, it was a big thing. Recently, I was watching something on TV about it and they were interviewing a lot of the people that were a part of the Redress. And there were starts and stops, and starts and stops for several years because there was different federal ministers that were involved in it and everything like that. And there was friction within the Japanese Canadian community about which was the right way to go and whether or not there needed to be a financial compensation or where there was just an apology and things like that. And it's interesting that the Japanese Canadian Redress was the first one. So now you've got the different apologies and different compensation for other historical wrongs that have happened. But I think anyways that it was interesting that it was the Japanese Canadian community that sort of, well, we're the first ones to get this. And it's amazing that that happened as well, because you look at the census numbers and Japanese Canadians make up such a tiny demographic of the Canadian society. Even back in the 40s or even today, Japanese Canadians are still a little blip in the demographics of Canada. So it's quite interesting.
CN
We're just about out of time, so I just wanted to ask you before we wrap up if there is anything else that you wanted to share with the project about your experience with Japanese Canadian history? Pauses. Any other stories from your family?
RK
No, nothing that I can think of off the top of my head. Pause. No, nope, nothing that I can think of.
CN
Okay, well we can leave it at that then because I think we've got to get going. But thank you so much for your time today.
RK
Okay. Well thank you.
CN
Thanks.
01:04:59.000

Metadata

Title

Roger Kishi, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 10 April 2018

Abstract

1940's, 1980's-present
Roger Kishi’s father was interned in Christina Lake and his mother in Greenwood. In this interview, Roger explains that his paternal grandfather was a boatbuilder in Steveston and that his father built boats during the internment. Roger speaks about how his parents did not talk about internment, and his immediate and extended family also did not share their experiences. Roger narrates how as a teenager and early adult, he learned about this history during the Redress movement through books and documentaries. He explains that he cannot speak Japanese and feels he has lost his culture. He believes that it is important to record this history, to make sure it does not get lost, to acknowledge the wrongs in Canada’s past, and to focus on fighting discrimination of any kind. Roger recalls how his position as a community council member in Cumberland has led him to discover layers of this history: racism in mining records; the desecration of the Japanese gravesite after dispossession; Florence Bell ’s class photographs in 1941 and ‘42 showing the loss of Japanese Canadian school children; and more. He describes an important connection for him that came in the early 2000s when he discovered the Campbell River Museum had a boat his paternal grandfather had built and sold to a Japanese Canadian family: the family sold the boat before seizure but bought it back in 1949 after they returned to the coast, fished it until the 70s, and then tied it up until the museum took possession and restored it. Even though dispossession is a hard history, he believes we must acknowledge and preserve it.

Credits

Interviewee: Roger Kishi
Interviewer: Carolyn Nakagawa
Transcriber: Jennifer Landrey
Audio Checker: Jennifer Landrey
Final Checker: Jennifer Landrey
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada
Keywords: Christina Lake ; Greenwood ; Steveston ; Vancouver ; Downtown Eastside ; Girls’ Day ; Boys’ Day ; Canada ; First Nations; Reconciliation; Doukhobors; Komagata Maru; WWI; Campbell River Museum ; Campbell River ; Cumberland ; May Doi ; Lorene Oikawa ; JCCA ; BCGEU ; Steveston Buddhist Temple ; Obon Tour ; Vancouver Island ; Nikkei Mountain ; Comox Lake ; Coon Town ; Chinatown; Japanese Town ; Comox Valley ; Minto School ; Visible Minority Committee; Federal New Democrats ; Wachiay Friendship Centre ; Aboriginal Friendship Centre ; Kishi Boatworks ; Edmonton ; Calgary ; Alberta ; North Vancouver ; Dunsmuir ; Victoria Day ; Miners Memorial Weekend ; Ginger Goodwin ; Residential Schools; Redress

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.