A Japanese-Canadian and a West Papuan studying here were among thousands who took part in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s B.C. National Event, held Sept. 18 to 21, and both said they have been transformed by the experience.
Hisako Masaki, a writer who has lived in Vancouver for 30 years, said she came to show her support for Indian residential school survivors and their families. Masaki said she came not because Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia themselves suffered in Canada during World War II, when about 22,000 of them were sent to internment camps during World War II.
Too often, she said, she has attended indigenous-related gatherings where a majority of the audience were aboriginal people and a few of their supporters, mostly white. “I was afraid that the coliseum would be empty, but I was pleased to see many regular people,” said Masaki in an interview with the Anglican Journal.
Held at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE), the event drew grade school, high school and university students, representatives of churches, government, non-governmental organizations and the general public—all representing a cross-section of this multi-ethnic city.
The experiences of Japanese-Canadians during the war and those of about 150,000 aboriginal children taken from their homes and sent to residential schools both stemmed from racism, but they’re quite different, said Masaki. “Japanese people are still not treated as equals, but they don’t have to go through the same suffering still being experienced now by aboriginal people,” she said. “Aboriginal people here were colonized and are still being colonized.” That said, Masaki said she feels a connection to their suffering.
Atty Baransano, who is in her final year of indigenous studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, said she has been inspired by the courage and resilience shown by aboriginal people and plans to bring back her experience to her homeland, where a struggle for independence and self-determination has led to a 50-year conflict that continues to this day.
“I have the same experience as them, not in residential schools but in the colonizing of our culture, our language, our identity. There’s a lot of injustice happening back home,” said Baransano in an interview with the Anglican Journal.
Located on the island of New Guinea, north of Australia, West Papua was a former Dutch colony. In 1962, administration of West Papua was transferred to Indonesia, which in 1969 assumed full control of the former colony. As many as 500,000 people have been killed in the conflict between the Free Papua Movement and Indonesian troops; thousands others undergo human rights violations, including loss of traditional lands, and have fled as refugees, according to various human rights groups.
While at the VST, Baransano said she has made friends with a lot of aboriginal people, some of whom she now calls “Uncle and Auntie” because they have adopted her as their relation.
“I’m very proud of them [Canada’s aboriginal people]. For me, they are very brave people,” she added. “I feel that they’re my brothers and sisters; that they’re my people.”