An article by Vinita Kinra, Editor, GAT
Imagine a carefree life on a sprawling six hectare berry and fruit farm nestled in the temperate climate of Fraser Valley region in British Columbia, Canada.
Now, change the canvas abruptly to an overcrowded log house with no electricity or running water in frigid Manitoba.
This was the roller coaster ride life churned out for Arthur Kazumi Miki, lovingly called Art Miki by his innumerable friends and well wishers across the globe.
The year was 1942. Art was 5. The Canadian government labelled all Japanese Canadians “Enemy Aliens” after Japan mounted a surprise military attack against the American naval base at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
All Japanese Canadians in the west coast were faced with two grim options: stay in the province at the cost of being separated from your family to live in internment camps, or move with your family to work as labourers on sugar beet farms in Manitoba. Either way, all their property was forcefully confiscated.
The lure of staying together prompted Miki’s family to undertake the exhausting 3-day train journey by old coaches to arrive at the Immigration Hall of Manitoba in May of 1942. There, they found company with over a thousand Japanese Canadians waiting to be recruited by sugar beet farmers who would select able-bodied adults to carry out back-breaking work at the farms.
This was, however, the fate of the fortunate. The less fortunate were left to languish at the Immigration Centre for having failed the recruitment screening due to debilitated bodies or failing health. Neither envied the other. They were all rendered homeless, anyway.
Japanese, known to be octogenarians, started perishing early due to this massive trauma that crippled them socially by way of racial discrimination, financially by dispossession of their ancestral property, and psychologically by sealing forever any hope to a bright future.
But when darkness persists, desperate eyes perceive forms out of black shadows. Ambiguity brings clarity. Determination brings hope, and hope brings success.
Art Miki’s spectacular academic career includes a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Manitoba; a Master of Education degree; and an honorary doctorate from the University of Winnipeg. He was a teacher for almost 3 decades and a high school and elementary school principal.
But Art Miki’s quest for success did not end with his personal accomplishments. He was aching to bring justice to thousands of victims affected by the grossly unfair treatment by the federal government. To serve that end, Miki became President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians in 1984 and announced that his organization would seek a formal apology from the Canadian government and full compensation for property that was confiscated in the 1940s. This lofty goal required immense perseverance, patience and positive energy in the face of numerous frustratingly inadequate and fruitless negotiations stretching over 4 years from 1984-1988, involving 5 successive multicultural ministers.
On the historic day of September 22, 1988, Art Miki signed the Japanese Canadian Redress Agreement with then Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney. The settlement promised $21,000 to each survivor and 12 million for a community fund, and pledged to set up a Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Mulroney also delivered an apology for the wartime internment policy to the Canadian House of Commons.
Art Miki was the obvious choice for Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, where he still serves as advisor.
The tireless Art Miki continued active community work in his role as Citizenship Judge in Manitoba. He also lent his support to efforts seeking an apology for past state discrimination against Chinese Canadians.
Art Miki was humble and helpful to a fault. His ever-smiling personality eschewed the faintest trace of a life fraught with trials and tribulations; a childhood stolen; a youth burdened.
I laughed and joked with him throughout the 3 unforgettable days of the Ottawa conference, not once realizing how many bitter memories his beaming benign face concealed. I toured the Canadian Museum of Nature with him, a befitting venue for the conferences, not once realizing how tired this Messiah was in achieving the seemingly insurmountable justice for the Japanese Canadian community of Canada.
In him I saw a glimpse of my father, and I gave him a fond hug on the day of departure, not knowing I should salute this hero of human rights who braved the odds, not just to carve his own success, but to restore the lost honour and dignity of his peoples.Canada saluted this distinguished soul by decorating him with Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian award. Manitoba saluted this shining star by decorating him with Order of Manitoba.
As for me, he is still the humble, helpful, smiling friend who brought me a dessert spoon my plate was missing during the awards night dinner.