Chinese-First Nations history explored
A little-known chapter in the history shared by early Chinese immigrants and the indigenous communities of British Columbia will soon find its way to film festivals across North America, thanks to a BC grant of $20,000 for a documentary on a Chinese-Musqueam family in Vancouver.
The documentary, called AllOur Father’s Relations, tells the story of the Grant family, who are of mixed Chinese and Musqueam heritage, from their childhood in Musqueam to their first trip to their father’s ancestral village in China in 2013.
The funding was announced by Teresa Wat, BC minister of international trade, Asia Pacific strategy and multiculturalism, at a press conference on Aug 12 at the Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre within the traditional territory of the Musqueam First Nation in Vancouver.
“Our government is committed to recognizing the important legacy and contributions of Chinese Canadians to British Columbia as part of fulfilling the recommendations in the Chinese Historical Wrongs Consultation Final Report,” Wat said in a statement.
The conference was attended by the filmmakers, members of the Grant family featured in the film, China’s Consul General Liu Fei and dignitaries from local Chinese and First Nations communities.
Chief Wayne Sparrow of the Musqueam Indian Band gave an opening address welcoming the guests to Musqueam territory and sang a welcome song on behalf of the community.
In a statement to the press, Chief Sparrow said that the story of the Chinese on Musqueam territory “is a significant part of our community’s history.”
“When we first welcomed the Chinese to Musqueam, they came to us with respect and a desire for a longterm relationship,” he said. “We are happy to see that again today.”
AllOurFather’s Relations focuses on four Musqueam elders and siblings — Gordon Grant, Larry Grant, Helen Callbreath and Howard Grant — whose father, Hong Tim Hing, left the village of Sei Moon in Guangdong in 1921 to seek work in Vancouver.
The Musqueam people welcomed Hong to live and farm in their community. According to Larry Grant, in an earlier video produced by the University of British Columbia Canadian Stories Project, Chinese farmers had been renting Musqueam land since 1906, initially without the knowledge of the Department of Indian Affairs.
The Chinese brought organic farming methods from their homeland and grew Chinese vegetables for market gardens. Many lived in the Musqueam community for generations.
Hong later married Agnes Grant of Musqueam, and their children grew up on the family’s market garden on the Musqueam Indian Reserve 2, even though the law prohibited their parents from living together.
In November 2013, Gordon, Larry and Howard Grant retraced their father’s footsteps to Guangdong to discover the homeland they never knew.
Their experiences in China were recorded by Vancouver filmmaker Alejandro Yoshizawa and Sarah Wai Yee Ling, a fourth-generation Chinese-British Columbian and researcher of Chinese and Musqueam intercultural history.
“There is a long history of Chinese farming in Musqueam on the reserve, and many important relationships were formed,” Ling told China Daily. “It is important for us to remember this history by creating education resources like a documentary film, because it is not being taught in the schools.”
According to Ling, AllOurFather’s Relations will aim to show the convergence of the history of Chinese farming in Musqueam and shared challenges of the Chinese and First Nations under Canadian government policies through the Grant family’s history.
“They are Musqueam elders who have many important stories to share with us about what it was like to grow up in both communities and the hardships both groups faced,” Ling said. “But also how we can look at this story and build respectful relationships today.”
“There are many new Chinese immigrants coming to Canada, on First Nations land, and it is important for them to understand where they are and the long history of struggle and contribution from the early Chinese who came from Guangdong province,” Ling said.