The forces that drive people out of their homes and communities and off their land have a long history in the Downtown Eastside. Indigenous people have been pushed from their traditional territories since first contact with European settlers. Governments have systematically removed First Nations peoples from their land and communities through various policies of domination and forced assimilation.
Indian Residential Schools were one horrific and genocidal strategy of removal and (attempted) elimination of Indigenous people. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) events in Vancouver (Sept 18-21) offered an opportunity to witness to the experiences of Residential School survivors. We could hear about their deep suffering and their courageous resistance and resilience. In this edition, Robert Bonner reflects on the TRC events and the key issues it brought to the surface for him.
On September 25th, the City of Vancouver formally apologized for its role in the displacement of Japanese Canadians during and after the war. In 1942 all Japanese Canadians were rounded up and sent to camps in the interior. They never got their property back. The City’s Motion, led by Vision Vancouver Councilor Kerry Jang, offered an apology to Japanese Canadians. The motion apologized for Alderman Halford Wilson’s Motion of 1942, passed by the then City Council. Wilson’s motion supported federal legislation for the internment and removal of all residents of Japanese racial origin from the West Coast of British Columbia. Grace Eiko Thomson, Judy Hanazawa, and Mary Kitagawa spoke to Jang’s motion (see Grace’s speech here). A celebration was held in the evening at the Vancouver Japanese Language School and Japanese Hall. Several of the speeches acknowledged the historic relations between the Japanese Canadians and Indigenous communities, current displacement of low-income folks in the area, many of whom are people of colour, and the need for Japanese Canadians to be vigilant in the struggle for social justice. At the celebration, Randy Enomoto asked Councilor Jang directly, “Would you be willing to take to your fellow councilors a motion for zero displacement of low-income citizens from Japantown and the Downtown Eastside?”
This is a particularly timely question as the City continues to engage the DTES in a Local Area Planning Process (LAPP). After years of meetings and countless hours of discussion with LAPP committee members and others in the community, the future development of the neighbourhood is slowly taking shape. A key focus of this work has been housing, especially the fight for good, secure social housing for low-income residents. This kind of housing can protect low-income residents from the violence of gentrification and involuntary displacement. Although the Emerging Directions draft from the City offers some sliver of hope, this has been under attack by developers and property owners who want “social mix” and $250,000 condos. Articles by Jean Swanson, Harold Lavender and Ivan Drury probe these issues. They suggest that, despite the language of apology and reconciliation, forced displacement will continue to play out in this region of the Coast Salish peoples’ unceded territory.