On Sept. 25, Grade 8 to 10 students from Nakusp Secondary School (NSS) gathered at the Bonnington Arts Centre for a unique look into a darker part of Canadian history as Mark Ikeda performed his one man show Sansei: The Storyteller.
The show is done in several parts, some of which is told through movement and dance, going through several periods of history, from 14th century Japan, to the story of his grandparents and how they met, to what it was like in Canada and the United States during the 1940s.
The idea for the show came about in an interesting fashion.
“I had just been a part of a project called ‘Making Treaty Seven’, which is the First Nations experience making a treaty, especially in the southern Alberta region where I call home,” said Ikeda. ““I got to be a part of that with really strong indigenous artists, and my peers, who really went through an amazing transformation, and this story I had was kind of the only one that held water in that conversation. This was the one that made their ears perk up, that this has happened to other racial groups.”
During the performance, a radio clip of the attack on Pearl Harbour plays, while lights flash, mimicking the attack.
Shortly after, another clip is played, this one from the CBC archives. A university professor speaks on the differences between the Japanese and “regular” Canadians.
As the clip goes on, Ikeda mimics what is being said, while his facial expressions go from smiling and happy to hurt, angry, and resentful.
Ikeda continued the show by telling the audience about the experience leading up to being shipped off to internment camps across the country, with only 24 hours to pack up and carry what would be needed.
Ikeda’s family, his grandparents, aunt and uncle, were among the many Japanese to wind up in an interment camp, a fact he wasn’t aware of until high school.
“I think in Grade 11, there was a social studies textbook, and I think one paragraph that said there was a Japanese internment,” he said. “I remember the other kids in my class came to me and asked ‘Did you know this?’ ‘What did you know about this?’ and I didn’t know anything, so I took it home and asked my father.”
His father wasn’t alive when the family was living at the Nikkei Internment Camp in New Denver, but his aunt and uncle remember the experience.
“My dad said my aunt and uncle had never told him anything, and it was kind of a family understanding that it was kind of a taboo subject,” he said. “It wasn’t until I started to ask these questions that a lot of these stories came to light. There were a few times my aunt and uncle both said they had never really told anyone what they had told me.”
Students in the audience were awed by his show.
“I thought it was really interesting,” said Ledger Coates, a Grade 8 student at NSS. “I’ve always been a big history geek, and it’s always neat learning new things about history, especially about other cultures. I was not aware of all that was happening, I had no idea of all the abuse of innocent people.”
Ikeda feels performing the show for students is important.
“With the Truth and Reconciliation Report coming out, and with the First Nations experience being taught in the curriculum for the first time in western Canada, it’s kind of a ripe time to look back at some of these things that have been too fresh and have been covered up,” he said. “We see what’s happening down south with the whole American election, and we see certain politicians still endorsing those kinds of tactics, and hopefully this is part of the conversation to put an end to it.”