CM . . . .
Volume V Number 7 . . . . November 27, 1998
"How else could I take it? It is personal. Everybody who's Japanese, or whose parents or even their grandparents were Japanese, has to register! It's like we're not humans and we need a piece of paper to go out."While Jed's dad is in Europe flying Spitfires for the Allied war effort, 14-year old Jed and Mom move back to her Haida community near Prince Rupert, BC, to live with Naani, Jed's grandmother. Mom works as a cook at the nearby military base while Jed attends school in Prince Rupert. Jed's friendship with Tadashi Fukushima from the nearby Japanese fishing village, Sikima, helps him adjust to the changes that have occurred because of the war.
When the commander of the military base hires Jed as a hunter to supplement the canned military stores, Jed takes pride in wearing a military jacket and sharing in the war effort. He even manages to get Tadi hired to work on the base. A wounded eagle, which to the Tsimshian is "more than a bird, it's part of their heritage, history and ancestry all rolled into one bundle of feathers," joins the compound, and Jed becomes its temporary custodian and later its liberator. However, the boys' complacency is shattered after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when the Canadian government declares all Japanese "enemy aliens," and Tadi and his family face registration, evacuation, detention, and resettlement. Walters tackles the sensitive issues of discrimination and intolerance in this novel based on a shameful episode in Canada's history, the internment of Japanese Canadians under the War Measures Act's powers of "arrest, detention, exclusion and deportation ." Although Jed, half-Tsimshian-Haida, experiences racial slights and slurs, they pale beside the treatment Tadi, his family, and his community suffer at the hands of their government and fellow citizens. Walters allows Jed to narrate his struggles to come to terms with his aboriginal heritage while trying to understand the social chaos engendered by fear and war hysteria. The novel focuses on male characters and explores multiple layers of the eagle symbol. Both subject matter and writing style demand maturity and commitment from readers whose reward will be a well-constructed yet unsettling glimpse into Canada's past. Young readers may find the hunting scenes too graphic and may be appalled by the cruel and crass behaviour of some of the soldiers and town's people.
Walters includes a dedication to his father who spent part of World War II stationed in Prince Rupert and whose reminiscences inspired War of the Eagles.
Darleen Golke works as the teacher-librarian at Fort Richmond Collegiate in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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