Excerpts from Landscapes of Injustice Panel: Japanese Internment During WW2

Above: “Truck transporting Japanese Canadian men to Tashme camp”. Image and caption found here.

On Saturday, January 14th I attended a panel called “Dispossession and Internment” put on by Landscapes of Injustice at the Vancouver Public Library downtown.

Landscapes of Injustice, in their own words, is a group that:

“[…] is dedicated to recovering and grappling with this history. We will research and tell the history of the dispossession and engage Canadians in a discussion of its implications. This history still matters. Members of our society continue to be unjustly marginalized, differences among us can still seem unsurmountable, and future moments of national crisis will inevitably arise. Our team shares the conviction that Canadian society will be better equiped to address these challenges if we continue to engage the most difficult aspects of our past.”

I was moved and shocked by what the panelists had to say as their experiences were shared by my own grandparents and great-grandparents. I live tweeted comments from the panelists during the event, I expand on what I tweeted below.

From Mary Kitigawa

“They [the Canadian government] called it a ‘program’ but it was really a slave labour situation…it was terrible”

 

“We paid for our own imprisonment and by the end of the war we were all destitute”

Above, panelist and local Vancouver activist Mary Kitigawa was referring to how Canadians of Japanese descent had their savings slowly depleted by the government during World War Two. Having had their personal property seized as well, these people had nothing to return to once the war was over and had to start over again.

Kitigawa also spoke of one of the first places her family were sent to be interned, a farm in Alberta. She said of the farmer:

“He said ‘all Japs should be treated as criminals,’ and that he had every intention of treating us as criminals”

From Tosh Kitigawa

Above: “Japanese Canadians being processed in Slocan”. Image and caption found here.

Panelist Tosh Kitigawa said the political climate in BC was especially hostile:

“Racist politicians in British Columbia were relentless in trying to remove Japanese-Canadians from the province”

He also noted the long-lasting effects of institutional racism saying,

“The war ended in 1945, but we [my family] were under house arrest until 1948”.

I believe it was also Tosh Kitigawa who remarked on how, after the war, the parent generation of those interned had to return to work. This was challenging, because they were all older. This, combined with the continued atmosphere of racial prejudice against Japanese Canadians, meant a lot of grown men and women ended up with menial jobs that could barely provide for their families. This was especially degrading as many of them had had successful careers before the war–an entire lifetime of work erased by the Canadian government and their racist communities.

Hostility on Saltspring Island after WW2

Mary Kitigawa’s family returned to Saltspring Island after their internment, and were met with extreme hostility from their community, RCMP, and even their own church. I was especially horrified by these stories–the war was over, but prejudice clearly still ran deep in our Canadian communities.

“The RCMP said to us ‘the services of the RCMP are not for people of your race,’ and so we felt very unprotected.”

 

“I will personally come down here and wipe out your family”

The latter threat was uttered by an RCMP officer to Kitigawa’s brother. Upon his return home, he managed to start and run a successful business (against all odds, I might add). His success rubbed other local business owners and the RCMP the wrong way, and he received death threats like the one above if he did not cease running a strong business.

Above: “Group of Japanese Canadian girls participating in Bon-Odori (summer festival) at Greenwood camp.” Image and caption found here.

Can you even imagine? It just goes to show that policing bodies like the RCMP and police even here in Canada have a long history of openly discriminating against minorities, a racist tradition that continues today.

Kitigawa said her family very regularly received threats of death and violence. She said her parents were so brave for returning and staying despite this outrageously volatile environment.

“The Anglican church we were all baptized in said we were no longer welcome, and they felt that we were evil people”

The above anecdote from Mary Kitigawa was especially heartbreaking for me. She said she and her siblings were all baptized in this church, and her family were regular churchgoers before the war. She commented on how, before her family was interned, they had even helped to raise money for a new organ for the church.

Despite her family’s commitment and involvement to their church, their own religious community had been poisoned by the racist atmosphere WW2 had in Canada, and her family were shunned upon their return. That must have been devastating; a place of worship provides strength and hope for so many, to be rejected by your own church after such an ordeal must have been a blow to the spirit.

Overall, the panel was very moving and informative. I’m glad to see such work continues in Canada, even decades after this dispossession took place. The relevance of this project to the government’s attitude and care towards minorities cannot be understated–we must remember so we don’t repeat past mistakes.

Learn more about Landscapes of Injustice and the Japanese-Canadian internment during World War Two here.

All images throughout from unidentified photographers, do not reflect any of the panelists quoted in this post. Images and descriptions found on the UBC Digitizers Blog, here.

Further Reading: Racism in Academia, Then and Now

Kaelen’s Minimal Designs are Perfect for Summer

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Kaelen is a Canadian designer based in New York. Her eponymous line offered a minimal, breezy collection for Spring/Summer 2016, perfect for the cosmopolitan sophisticate.

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I love the shimmery blush pink and chartreuse in this collection, its just enough.

All images found here

Cute Canadian Summer Clothes: Eve Gravel

Montreal-based designer Eve Gravel just gets what I want for summer clothes. Her Spring/Summer 2016 collection is perfect, and has just enough unique touches to turn heads without being too trendy.

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I love the black and white outfits accented with blush runners. The pastel prints avoid an overly-sweet feel being in boxier silhouettes. Just good stuff, you know?

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Definitely a more polished, cosmopolitan feel. Lots of good stuff for work and play, and note the pops of pastel nail polish which takes these looks to the next level.

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All images from Eve Gravel

 

 

 

Veronique Branquinho: No Diversity, No Comment

I love her designs, but I’m not the only one who has noticed Branquinho maybe has a serious problem with hiring models of colour.

Let’s just take a look back at her last few collections, shall we?

RESORT 2017

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FALL 2016 RTW

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There were 0 models of colour in her Fall 2016 runway show.

PRE-FALL 2016

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SPRING 2016

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For her Spring 2016 show, Branquinho had Mona Matsuoka walk the runway (not pictured above), who is half Japanese. She appeared to be the only model who was not entirely white, however.

RESORT 2016

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The Closet Feminist noted last year that Veronique Branquinho’s Resort collection was especially lacking diversity. So, as you can see above, it’s been a full year and no change…

Feminist Designers: SheNative

The Closet Feminist’s second instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Devon Fiddler, Chief Changemaker and Designer for SheNative Goods Inc. SheNative is based out of Saskatoon, and is a socially driven, handbag and accessories brand that aims to empower the Indigenous women.

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What inspired you to start your line SheNative?

I started SheNative out of a childhood dream of becoming a designer, my own life experiences as an Indigenous women, and my first career experiences. When I started SheNative, I had no fashion design background, little sewing experience, and went for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics (Aboriginal Public Administration).

After completing my degree, I worked as a Business Development Coordinator, working with clients on reserve who wanted to start a business. This sparked my passion of entrepreneurship, and brought my childhood dream swirling back into my head. I saw other entrepreneurs starting companies with a mission to have a positive social impact, and I decided that I wanted to start a fashion business that gives back.

I grew up out of a lot of negative experiences that many Indigenous women in Canada face, including seeing and experiencing family violence, being taken advantage of, domestic violence and more. I still see many of my friends and family struggle with what they went through; these experiences are so common among Indigenous women.

Through SheNative, I want to bring light into lives by showing the power of positivity, and showing other women that you can find it in yourself to make changes and overcome any negative experience you’ve had. I try to show that myself by practice, living healthy, and following my dream. I try to bring positive inspiration into the lives of others through the initiatives that we create in SheNative (Her 4 Directions Fashion Incubator), inspirational words, and showcasing what other Indigenous women are doing.

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SheNative focuses a lot on affirmations, positive thinking, social media campaigns beyond marketing, etc. Are there plans to evolve SheNative into a broader lifestyle brand?

Yes, I think that’s where we are heading with our brand. We are still figuring out what’s working and what’s not working. We are very new, so it takes time to build.

I started out with the idea that I would create very specific products. Initially, I wanted to start a clothing line that was more geared towards professional working women. After consulting with a product development company in Toronto, we found that it didn’t matter what we created: SheNative was going to be a company that empowered Indigenous women.

Initially, SheNative started by designing a handbag collection instead of a clothing line. Working with companies that hold ethical production standards, along with quality workmanship is really important to me.

Since starting, SheNative has really evolved as a brand, from quality handbags to graphic t-shirts. Our line goes from a higher-end to a fairly low price point. We are looking to build more products in the medium price point range. I think becoming a broader lifestyle brand would make the most sense for us moving forward.

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What have you learned working on SheNative that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

The fashion portion especially has been a big learning curve for me, and I am still learning a lot! I still leave the sewing to those who are best at it. I found the best way to learn is by just jumping in, doing, and being hands-on instead of taking technical courses in design.

For the business-side of things, I’ve entered as many entrepreneurship courses and classes, both online and in classrooms that I can find. I think you have to learn from mistakes along the way and pivot when things are not working.

What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of SheNative?

I am currently trying to create a typical day for me. At first it was chaotic; we had a lot of interviews and random media requests during our launch. Then, I started getting speaking requests, especially in the Indigenous community, as well as invitations to many different events like trade shows. At this time, I would often forget to eat, and stay up working on business stuff at all hours of the night.

Now, I’m establishing a bit of a routine. I wake up in the morning, have my breakfast, take my dog out for a walk, check emails, and then head out to our shared studio space. At the studio, I take on whatever tasks come our way from there including operational, sales, design, etc, which takes me to the end of the day; only sometimes do I take evening meetings. I also sit on three committees, so that takes of some of my free time. I now go to sleep at a decent hour, and always make time for myself.

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Your brand seems very dynamic with regards to how you reach your customer base—trade shows, craft fairs, farmers markets, pop up shops, conferences, and fashion week in addition to an online shop. How has this versatility affected/impacted SheNative?

We have been exploring what works and doesn’t work [in an attempt to find] our target market. Through this, we have found our target market is different than we thought it would be; you never know until you jump in and try. I have to admit, trying too much at once has had a negative impact on the business. After finding out something doesn’t work, you need to be strong at saying ‘no’, and moving forward with what actually works.

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SheNative recently completed a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, congratulations to the SheNative team! Be sure to follow SheNative and watch this exciting Canadian brand grow!

Shop SheNative here

SheNative on Facebook

SheNative Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter

Images by Axis Imagery. All images used with permission by SheNative

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