Japanese Canadians in Calgary are adding their voices to a growing chorus of people concerned about the province’s new draft K-6 curriculum.
“It really seems to be turning its back on what came before it,” said Kunji Ikeda the artistic director of Cloudsway Dance Theatre. “They’re bringing into the curriculum racist practice (mixed) with fiscal responsibility.”
Ikeda is pointing to parts of the Grade 4 draft curriculum which asks students to make a business plan for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
“It will be a risky plan to effectively manage resources and keep initial losses to a minimum,” the draft curriculum reads. “What are the costs and the benefits in economic and human terms?”
“I hope this was an oversight,” Ikeda said. “The building of the Canadian Pacific Railway used migrant workers at next to nothing costs, and was near slave labour for Asian Canadians and it’s taught next to how to balance a budget?”
The beginning of the construction of the CPR saw Chinese railway workers brought by ship from California and China. Chinese workers were paid less than white workers and were given the most dangerous tasks.
A section of the Grade 4 draft curriculum is dedicated to the mistreatment of Chinese railway workers, mass burials and the origin of the Chinese head tax.
“The building of the CPR was considered a national project with ‘ties that bind’ the Dominion together,” the draft curriculum highlights. “But much of the work was done by immigrant workers, including Chinese and Indian workers.”
“Chinese and Indian immigrants suffered racial discrimination and immigration restrictions.”
However Ikeda believes the draft doesn’t go far enough in humanizing the issue and fellow Canadians.
“You’re asking these young minds to look at slave labour and how it helped build this giant project that otherwise would have been unmanageable.”
“That is allowing our children to understand it was okay once and it was beneficial.”
Retired Calgary teacher, Roger Teshima, is also underlining the importance of humanizing injustices in Canadian history.
Teshima said he would like to see the Japanese Canadian internment added to the new draft curriculum.
“I am concerned that there has been no mention of the Japanese Canadians,” Teshima said. “It may happen in the 7-12 program but there’s no mention at the elementary level and I think that’s where it has to start.”
In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 20,000 Japanese Canadians were forcibly removed from the west coast and sent to prisoner of war camps, sugar beet farms and internment camps.
Teshima who is also the president of the Calgary Japanese Community Association believes there are appropriate ways to introduce the topic pointing to the Canadian graphic novel ‘On Being Yukiko’. The book explores the Japanese Canadian internment through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl who is a quarter Japanese.
“It touches on the internment and I think that book goes a long way in bringing those stories to young kids without the harsh reality of the ugliness that occurred,” Teshima said.
“They’re not too young, they do feel empathy.”
According to the provincial government, the Japanese Canadian internment is part of the current grade 11 curriculum.
“(It) addresses the internment of Japanese Canadian citizens during the Second World War as students analyze nationalism and ultra-nationalism during times of conflict,” said Nicole Sparrow the press secretary for the Office of the Minister of Education.
“While this this topic is not explicitly referenced in the draft K-6 social studies curriculum, we encourage all Albertans to give their feedback on the draft feedback through the survey at Alberta.ca/curriculum.”