In a gesture of reconciliation, the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba is gifting mobiles of a thousand handmade paper cranes to Indigenous organizations in Winnipeg.
In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature said to live 1,000 years. According to legend, anyone in possession of 1,000 folded paper cranes, which are strung together, will be granted one wish, explained JCAM president Kelly Kaita. This is referred to as senbazuru in Japanese, or "a thousand cranes."
"That wish can literally be anything — good health, good finance, good life, anything," Kaita told The Times.
"We felt that if we could present this senbazuru to these organizations, they might wish for an understanding and support for either the Every Child Matters movement or the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate."
It was Kaita’s wife who suggested the project. The pair had been watching the news after it was revealed that the remains of 215 Indigenous children had been discovered at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
"My wife pointed out to me that as an association, it’s important for us to stand in solidarity and support of those who need support. And of course, she brought up the fact that the 1,000 cranes in Japanese culture has a lot of significance and meaning. And so she suggested that we proceed with a movement — 1,000 cranes for reconciliation."
The association’s membership quickly began folding cranes. Even people from across Canada and from Tokyo, Japan have contributed. JCAM, located at 180 McPhillips St., has received more than 5,000 cranes to date.
The association has gifted senbazuru to the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre.
"Having another group show their recognition and take the time to create something that is culturally significant to them, to then gift to us is just a really humbling and beautiful gesture," said Rosalyn Boucha, the communications manager for Ma Mawi.
"And it is a reminder of our collective responsibility as Canadians to uphold truth and reconciliation and learn from history and move forward together."
Ma Mawi accepted senbazuru in a ceremony on July 9 at one of its sites, the Gathering Place for Truth and Reconciliation (445 King St.).
Boucha said the organization will tour the mobile across its sites and the cranes’ final resting place will be at the Windy Hill Community Training, Healing and Learning Centre, about an hour northeast of Winnipeg.
Also on JCAM’s waiting list is Winnipeg city hall and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. In August, Kaita and his wife will drive to B.C. to deliver a mobile to the First Nations Health Authority.
"We were quite moved with the way that these cranes were accepted," Kaita said.
Although it wasn’t the focus of the project, Kaita recognized parallels in the history of the Japanese and Indigenous peoples in Canada — they were and continue to be affected by racism and discrimination.
During the Second World War, Japanese people living in Canada were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in internment camps, similar to how Indigenous children were scooped from their homes and stuck in residential schools.
"It’s certainly something that has come to mind," Kaita said.
"A lot of people have said there are similarities between the Japanese-Canadian internment and these Indian residential schools, only in the sense that individuals were taken involuntarily.
"That’s why we felt very compelled to want to support our Indigenous friends."
Kaita added that JCAM is one of the signatories of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord, a document guiding the city’s reconciliation efforts.
He said JCAM will continue creating senbazuru as long as the association receives requests and is able to fold cranes.
The Times community journalist
Sydney Hildebrandt was the community journalist for The Times until September 2021, when she joined our sister paper, the Brandon Sun.