Students from Greenwood Elementary School in the Boundary School District have been exploring local histories and finding ways to honour the presence of Japanese culture in their community.

The small school of 72 students has been on a path of discovery, uncovering more about Greenwood’s local Japanese history. Many people in the small city of Greenwood have family histories tied to Japanese culture due to the first Japanese internment camp being established there during World War II, when the population of Greenwood suddenly grew from 200 to 1400 people. After the war, the Greenwood Board of Trade was one of the few to take a stand against the Canadian government’s decision to send Japanese Canadians back to Japan, further establishing the community in this area.

At the school, a small but mighty staff of teachers and administrators have found a variety of meaningful ways to incorporate this history into the curriculum. At Greenwood, celebrating Asian Heritage Month in May means taking the opportunity to highlight Japanese culture with library displays, themed artwork and haikus covering the walls of the hallway so that students can see their cultural identity celebrated. Student family history projects often uncover previously unknown ties to internment camps, says Katie Jepson, trustee from the Boundary School District. “These are teachable moments to highlight some of the historical connections to the area or comment on the resilience of their ancestors,” says Jepson.

This year, students in Grades 2 through 7 had the opportunity to immerse themselves in their community when they went to the Greenwood Museum for the day to learn more about the history of internment camps. Two years ago, on the 80th anniversary of Japanese Canadian internment, Grade 6 and 7 students gifted event organizers 1000 origami paper cranes that they folded while learning Japanese words and phrases. At the memorial, students met with local Japanese Canadian elders, something the school hopes to do more of in the future.

The community in Greenwood is small but diverse. In addition to its Japanese population, over 58 per cent of the students this year self-identify as having Indigenous heritage. The school district is also in an area where cultural groups such as the Sinixt, Syilx and Doukhobor have faced oppression due to government policy. Other schools throughout the district have taken this opportunity to honour this local history, sharing ways that each of these groups have risen above oppression, helping students see the richness that their communities have within them.  

The feedback from Greenwood students has been incredibly positive and there is growing interest in knowing more about local Japanese culture and the families who share this local history. There is a great deal of pride that Japanese Canadian culture is still alive and well in their own backyard.

Thank you to Katie Jepsen, trustee from the Boundary School District and Angela Bragg, Greenwood Elementary principal for sharing this story.