From 2016 to 2020, a Vancouver father and daughter chronicled an amazing family tale of survival. Irwin Oostindie, a director of the Dutch Cultural Association of B.C., and his daughter, Inessa, created an experimental documentary about Oostindie’s father, Dirk.
In 1945, Dirk travelled 200 kilometres from Amsterdam in the midst of a horrific famine. In the Hongerwinter of 1944-45, thousands starved because Nazi occupiers had prevented food from reaching the western part of the country. The Germans were retaliating against an exiled Dutch government for supporting the Allies.
On his 17th birthday and suffering from diphtheria, Dirk was saved by Canadian soldiers. They had come to liberate the Netherlands.
Oostindie describes this as a heroic story. And it reinforces the view of Canadians as the good guys in the Second World War.
But Oostindie emphasizes that it’s an incomplete history.
“We honour these Canadian soldiers liberating the Netherlands,” Oostindie says. “But we don’t tell the story that 3,000 of the Canadian soldiers liberating Western Europe came back to Canada as second-class citizens because they were Indigenous.
“Nor do we tell the story that when the Netherlands was liberated, the Netherlands killed tens of thousands of Indonesians fighting for their liberation.”
The Dutch Cultural Association of B.C. is trying to tell a more nuanced and complete story of the Netherlands, including the experiences of those who lived under Dutch colonial rule. Moreover, the association’s goal is to provide a richer understanding of how Dutch descendants should act as visitors on the unceded lands of Indigenous nations in Canada.
Oostindie believes that this has set his organization up well for a collaboration with this year’s TAIWANfest in Vancouver and Toronto.
TAIWANfest celebrates Dutch culture
In this partnership, the Dutch Cultural Association of B.C. will present authors, lectures, film screenings, and DJ performances. As well, there will be a joint Dutch-Taiwanese street fair at TAIWANfest in downtown Vancouver.
This comes in advance of the 400th anniversary of the Dutch colonization of Taiwan, which lasted from 1624 to 1662. Portuguese sailors had already named the island “Formosa” in the previous century before the Dutch East India Company established Fort Zeelandia in what is now Tainan.
“Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Canada can have heartfelt discussions that bring these hidden histories forward,” Oostindie says. “And we can learn about what it means for contemporary politics, how we work together, and how we consider democracies.”
TAIWANfest has been hosting dialogues with other parts of Asia for several years. It kicked things off in 2016 with Hong Kong, showcasing cultural connections and other similarities between Taiwan and the southern Chinese commercial centre. It came two years after Hong Kong and Taiwan students had each led struggles for freedom and political change—the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.
In 2017, TAIWANfest explored historic connections between Japan and Taiwan. As part of this festival, speakers focused on the impact of 50 years of Japanese occupation on the Taiwanese national identity. In subsequent years, TAIWANfest conducted dialogues with the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, and Indonesia and Malaysia. In each case, the festival highlighted cultural, economic, and historic ties to Taiwan.
This year will mark the first time that TAIWANfest will hold a dialogue with a European country.
Reconciliation and decolonization
Festival organizer Charlie Wu points out that the Netherlands is preparing to issue a formal apology for slavery. He thinks that Asian countries can learn from the Dutch willingness to acknowledge historical wrongs.
Moreover, Wu says that Asian newcomers must understand that a process of reconciliation is underway with Indigenous peoples in Canada.
“If you ask a lot of people who came—the first generation—about decolonization and you ask them about reconciliation, they have nothing to tell you,” Wu says. “It’s important we have people from the Dutch Cultural Association [of B.C.], like Irwin, to share their perspective.”
Wu notes that greater understanding of reconciliation and decolonization can open up pathways for discussion between first-generation immigrants and their Canadian-born kids. And having someone like Oostindie involved in TAIWANfest can expose Asian newcomers to a person who recognizes how being white might have advantaged his family’s settlement in Canada.
Oostindie is the research lead, strategy, and business lead of Voor Urban Labs, which engages in complex urban planning, particularly for urban Indigenous communities across Canada. It pursues the Dutch polder model, in which everyone is given a voice.
“It takes time to listen,” Oostindie says. “It’s not performative; it’s functional and mechanical.”
The Dutch learned centuries ago that they had to work together to protect the dike system so their country wasn’t flooded by the North Sea. Oostindie points out that this gave birth to the polder system, which has parallels with non-hierarchical Indigenous governance systems in Canada.
“We’ll be participating in a lecture at TAIWANfest where we’ll talk about issues of urbanization of Indigenous people—and the erasure of their experience,” Oostindie says.
Furthermore, Oostindie says that in Taiwan and Canada, there has been an emergence of services for urban Indigenous people in Taiwan and Canada. He adds that there’s also been greater recognition of Indigenous language rights.
Oostindie still sees huge policy gaps concerning urban Indigenous peoples.
Meanwhile, there will also be uplifting stories at TAIWANfest.
“Culturally, there are interesting parallels between Coast Salish canoe carvers [on Canada’s West Coast] and Indigenous Taiwanese canoe carvers,” Oostindie adds. “That’s a story people will access at TAIWANfest and make linkages between Indigenous people from Vancouver and Indigenous people from Taiwan.”
Oostindie’s first language is Dutch. His Dutch grandparents were activists, handing out underground newspapers in the Netherlands. His father helped develop the park system in B.C.
“When you’re raised in unceded Coast Salish lands and you have an understanding of history, then you ask questions about what happened here,” Oostindie says. “And that quickly opens the door to understanding genocide. You need to have settler denial to have genocide.”
Then, he adds: “Genocide requires settler denial. So once you break the bubble of settler denial in your life, then you understand and empathize with the victims of genocide.”
Oostindie’s surname was the “O” in VOC, which was the abbreviation for the Dutch East India Company. It was the first joint-stock company in the world, established in 1602 with a monopoly on trade with Asia. VOC administered Taiwan on the king’s behalf.
“When you have a kind of historical name, you think about histories,” Oostindie says.
This is the fifth installment of Pancouver’s six-part series on Canada, the Netherlands, and Taiwan. Pancouver created this in partnership with Taiwan Insight. It’s the online magazine of the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham. Taiwan Insight has published different versions of the articles on its website. Follow Taiwan Insight on Twitter @UoNARI_Taiwan. Follow Pancouver @PancouverMedia. Charlie Wu is the general manager of the Society of We Are Canadians Too, which owns Pancouver.