SLATE: The Snake-Eaters & the Yards by Rebecca Onion

American wounded soldiers of the special forces are evacuated by helicopter from a camp in Plei Me, south Vietnam, November 1965.
Photo AFP/Getty Images

The Vietnamese tribesmen who fought alongside American Special Forces won the Green Berets’ admiration—and lost everything else.

In 1965, syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak used a frontier metaphor to describe the American Special Forces’ advisory role with Vietnamese tribesmen. “Assume that during our own Civil War the north had asked a friendly foreign power to mobilize, train, and arm hostile American Indian tribes and lead them into battle against the South,” they wrote. 

If that historical hypothetical suggested wild possibilities, Evans and Novak used it advisedly. For four years, Special Forces had been training an oppressed minority group in guerrilla tactics, providing them with weapons and acting as de facto aid workers in their communities. When Americans remember Vietnam, we often think of the war as having three major actors: the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, and the American military. But there was another player: the Montagnards.

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Eka launches Montagnard Translation Services!

Through Montagnard Translation Services, Eka can now connect you with interpreters in four major Montagnard languages: JaraiEde, Bahnar, & Bunong. 

To access interpretation for the Vancouver Montagnard community or to inquire about rates, please contact us at: 778 316 7233 or  

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Still Creek Community Garden Walk Shares Sacred Highland Gong Music

*Cross post from posAbilities 

Garden event unites community with UNESCO-recognized cultural heritage

Still Creek Community Garden shares sacred gong music from Southeast Asia
Patricia Marcoccia

Honeybees are successful because they work in unison. In the same vein, several grassroots Vancouver organizations teamed up to create a gathering of truly diverse communities at the Still Creek Community Garden last Sunday unlike any other the neighbourhood has seen.

Over 80 people gathered on Sunday to enjoy everything from a free honeybee demonstration to a community potluck and live musical performances.

Among those gathered were members of the Montagnard Community, a diverse indigenous community with about 250 members who were resettled to Vancouver as government sponsored refugees from their ancestral highland jungles of Southeast Asia – today, southeast Laos, northeast Cambodia and the central highlands of Vietnam.

Those gathered at the event could witness sacred gong music, regalia and dance performed by The Highland Gong Society – the first to share the Montagnard traditions in Canada, which are recognized by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage. Montagnard is a French colonial term meaning “mountain people.”

“It’s eye-opening to see different members of the community that you didn’t see before. You realize that the community is complex and when you invite those people you are able to do something that you wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” says Cinthia Pagé, project co-ordinator at Can You Dig It (CYDI), posAbilities’ community gardens initiative.

Can You Dig It's booth at the event on Sunday.

Can You Dig It’s booth at the event on Sunday.

Cinthia was especially moved  seeing so many men from the Montagnard Community gathered together on Father’s Day, knowing that less than 10 years ago they were confined in refugee camps.

The partnership of organizations including CYDI, the Still Moon Society, Eka Cooperative and the Food Security Institute enabled the event to attract people from different walks of life to share in the festivities. The gathering was also realized at a very low cost thanks to the efforts of volunteer organizers, performers and community members that shared in the community potluck.

Cinthia emphasizes that although CYDI focuses on supporting individuals with disabilities, it is also about bringing together diverse groups that are vulnerable to isolation.

“These kinds of events allow those people to become part of the community,” she says.

“There’s more to a community than what you see. It’s amazing to see what’s possible when people come together.”

Feel free to comment on this story below or e-mail patricia(at)

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Still Creek Community Garden Walk: Father's Day (June 16th) @ Slocan Park (29th Ave Station)


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Join Eka's Team in Walk for Reconciliation! Sept 22

On September 22nd, Eka is gathering a team to participate in Reconciliation Canada's Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver.

We are walking in the spirit of Nam’wiyut (we are all one), joining the movement to build better relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.

Reconciliation Canada's bold vision calls on everyone —all ages, all cultures, all faiths, all backgrounds— to join in creating vibrant, resilient communities for future generations. We believe that we are stronger together. Join us as we take this first step on the path to a better Canada. 

Reconciliation Canada embodies the essence of Eka: promoting social cohesion through cooperative-culturalism, a community-based, dialogic approach that creates space for dynamic integration by bringing together a richer diversity of voices and emphasizing interaction among cultural groups.

Click here to join our team or donate!

We will never realize the true promise of Canada until we acknowledge our past and reconcile with the First Peoples of this land.

And please helping us reach our fundraising goal in support of the Reconciliation Canada Legacy Fund. You’ll be helping fund one the most well developed community engagement initiatives for reconciliation in Canada. You can find out more about the Legacy Fund by clicking here. (*You will automatically be issued a tax receipt. We are unable to collect and receipt cash or cheque donations.)

See you there!

Ashley Arden
Chair, Eka Cooperative


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Introducing Sunday Gongs & Coffee in Slocan Park!

From April through September, the Highland Gong Society & Eka Coop will be hosting Gongs & Coffee in Slocan Park on most Sundays from 10am to 12pm (Check Eka Events for dates & location!)

Come out and meet the Montagnard, a diverse Indigenous community of Jarai, Bahnar, Ede and Bunong families who have arrived in East Vancouver as UN refugees from their ancestral lands in the Annamite rainforests of Southeast Asia – today, southeast Laos, northeast Cambodia & the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Experience the Montagnard's sacred gong music, dances and traditional regalia, recognized by UNESCO as an integral piece of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.

Coffee, tea and snacks will be available by donation.

We proudly serve Doi Chaang Coffee – 50% grower-owned, their Beyond Fair Trade business model aligns with our values of sustainability and cultural continuity for Indigenous peoples:

Our story of Doi Chaang Coffee is set in a small village located within the Northern Thailand region of the Golden Triangle. It all began when the hill tribe families of the Doi Chang Village united together to create their own coffee company; after 20 years of cultivating and processing coffee, the farmers grew frustrated selling their high quality beans for minimal prices to coffee dealers who would blend them with other inferior coffee beans. Through their own initiative, our families decided it was time to directly offer the unique taste of their own premium, single-estate, organic Arabica coffee.

The villagers soon established themselves as independent, successful coffee producers, building their own processing plants, drying facilities, and storage warehouses. The coffee is cultivated in small family gardens with everyone committed to maintaining sustainable agriculture and having minimal impact on the natural habitat. All aspects of production are carefully monitored to ensure consistent and optimal taste in every cup of Doi Chaang Coffee.

 Committed to offering Doi Chaang Coffee as an exclusive single-estate, certified-organic Arabica, the growers approached a small Canadian group of coffee enthusiasts to bring Doi Chaang Coffee into the international market.

In recognition of the equal value of their contributions, the growers and the Canadian group established an equal partnership for the international distribution of Doi Chaang Coffee. The growers continue to focus on cultivation, processing and domestic sales, while the Canadian group provides financing, marketing, roasting and distribution for the international market.

Today, the Doi Chang Village and the surrounding area is home to 8,000 people within eight hundred families, all living and primarily working together to cultivate and produce a premium organic, single-estate Arabica coffee.


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Vancouver Montagnard Travel With Eka Co-Founder to Sunshine Coast

Montagnard visit the Sunshine Coast

Co-founder Haley Howe organized a trip with the Montagnard to visit her village on the Sunshine Coast.For two activity packed days over the Labour Day Weekend, a group of Montagnard were able to experience the first vacation of their lives.

The trip offered a wonderful opportunity for the Montagnard to experience small town B.C.  All of the Montagnard talked about how much they missed living in a rural environment.  They commented on the fresh air, silence, lack of skytrain and traffic noise, and the sound of the birds and crickets at night.  The Sunshine Coast brought back fond memories of village life and created an opportunity to meet a small town community and experience more of the diversity of Canada.

Haley’s family welcomed the Montagnard with open arms.  They were shocked to hear about the struggles the Montagnard have endured not only in their home country but also in resettlement to Canada.  Haley comments, “spending time with the Montagnard in my hometown reminded me of how much I take for granted.  I am so lucky to have my wonderful family so near and be able to visit them when I want to and to have such a beautiful piece of land to call home.”

Riding the BC Ferries

Preparing traditional meals

Meeting the family

Swimming in the lake

Learning about hunting and construction

Asian/Western Breakfast


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Montagnards Recognized by Cherokee American Legion as America's Newest Warrior Tribe!

2012 Dega Days Celebration on Saturday, September 22
New Central Highlands, Randolph County near Asheboro, NC

Cross post  from Gonzo on the Right

This year’s Montagnard Memorial Event “DEGA DAYS” kicked off with the Opening Flag Ceremony presented by five Cherokee Indians from the American Legion, Steve Youngdeer Post 143 Color Guard.

So why would an American Indian Organization conduct the opening ceremony?  The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has recognized the Montagnards as the newest warrior tribe in association with the American Indians.

The Montagnards formed a partnership with the US Army Special Forces in the war against communist aggression in Vietnam in the early 1960s.

During the drawdown of the war effort the Special Forces were ordered to abandon their partnership and sever their ties with the Montagnards to expedite the war’s end.  Due to the Montagnard’s loyalty to the American Special Forces, the new government of Vietnam forced them out of the Central Highlands and into “Re-education Camps” on the Cambodian and Laotian borders for the purpose of extermination and genocide.

Since 1975 more than seven and a half million Montagnards have been eliminated in these camps run by the Vietnamese government.

A handful of retired, former and active duty SF men then set out to rescue the Montagnards and help them relocate in the United States.

The Montagnards have re-established their culture in their newly adopted homeland…what they call the “New Central Highlands of North Carolina.”

Since the Montagnards have gained US citizenship and have established their homeland in North Carolina, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who have served in every war from World War II to the present day War on Terror decided to recognize and welcome the Montagnards as the newest tribe in Native American Warrior Culture.

In essence then, one of the oldest native cultures in America has officially recognized the Montagnards as having established roots in America.

This achievement is signified by “Presenting the Colors” of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by American Legion Steve Youngdeer Post 143 Color Guard to the Montagnards at the “Dega Days” celebration.

A follow on event will be held October 4th – 8th in conjunction with the 100th Annual Cherokee Indian Fair.  This is part ot the “Trails of Legends and Adventure” program.  The Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall will also be on display.  This is a “Chiefs Meet Chiefs” celebration, part of the Annual Cherokee Tribal Council Gathering held at the Acquoni Expo Center in Cherokee, North Carolina.

For more information contact Warren Dupree, Post Service Officer at 828-508-2657, or visit on-line, or call 800-438-1601.

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In Memory of Yao Nay, Canadian Montagnard Killed in Vietnam

It is with heavy hearts that Eka shares the tragic news of Yao Nay's death on Sunday morning (August 19th, 2012) near his home village in an area of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The official report is that he succumbed to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near his wife's village, (Ia Phang village, Chu Se District, in Gia Lai province),an area closed to foreigners by the Vietnamese government. Details are limited as communications in and out of this area are severely restricted by the government. A full investigation by Department of Foreign Affairs is now underway.


Yao Nay (July 24, 1982 - August 19, 2012) with his MP & former federal immigration critic Don Davies last Christmas. Don has worked tirelessly over the years with Eka to help Yao and the other Montagnard men reunite with their wives and children.

Yao Nay was Jarai, one of the Montagnard (aka Degar) peoples indigenous to the highlands of what is now considered Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. In 2005, he joined thousands of his fellow Montagnard who have risked everything – leaving their families, communities and ancestral lands behind – to flee decades of violent religious and ethnic persecution by the Vietnamese government. Yao escaped through the heavy jungle over the border to Cambodia and sought asylum in the UNHCR refugee camp in Phnom Penh. After a year in the camp, he was resettled to Vancouver by Canada as a government sponsored refugee.

Yao arrived in Canada on a cold December day in 2006 – quite a shock to someone raised in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia!

Along with the other Montagnard men sent to Vancouver, Yao struggled with the difficulties of being resettled into Vancouver's Vietnamese community and provided with only Vietnamese interpretation (a language unrelated to theirs, which they do not understand.) He also struggled with being separated from his wife for so long. A soul can handle a year or two, but if he or any of the men had known just how long it would take to reunite with their families, not one of them would have gotten on that plane in Cambodia. Sadly, earlier this year, as Yao turned 30, his 6-year effort to sponsor his wife to Canada hit a brick wall when Citizenship & Immigration Canada officially denied his One Year Window sponsorship application.

Yao had applied to sponsor his wife under the One Year Window program when he first arrived as a refugee, but being mistaken for Vietnamese seriously impeded his ability to communicate with border services or understand the complexity of the sponsorship process. Citizenship & Immigration Canada denied his application on the grounds that he did not tell immigration officials he was married when he was questioned at the airport. Yao had in fact tried in his language, Jarai, but the officials who oversaw the process only spoke Vietnamese and did not record his statement. To complicate matters, his wife was called to the Canadian Consulate in Ho Chi Minh last fall for an interview, where she was questioned in Vietnamese (ignoring her extremely limited ability to communicate in Vietnamese) and couldn't give a satisfactory answer as to why they had not gone on a honeymoon and didn't have any wedding photos (practices that are entirely culturally irrelevant to these indigenous forest peoples.) Eka helped Yao launch an appeal before the Immigration & Refugee Board; however, by the time he left, it was becoming clear that they would not be able to overturn the decision on humanitarian & compassionate grounds. 

Nevertheless, Yao worked very hard to learn English and accomplished the incredible feat of becoming a Canadian citizen just a few short months ago (the only way for him to return to Vietnam to see his wife again.) "It was a proud day when he brought me the letter which invited him to his oath ceremony," said Kara Ardan, an Eka Director who worked closely with Yao for years, "I remember shaking his hand – he was so thrilled! He knew it also meant he could travel to Vietnam to see his wife again." Yao immediately applied for a Canadian passport and used this new ID to get a visa to travel back to his village. While excited to see his wife, he was also very worried about how the Vietnamese police would treat him (as all the Montagnard men are who manage to do this). He gave a copy of his identification and emergency contact numbers to us here at Eka in case 'anything happened'. Predictably, the harassment began as soon as he arrived at the airport and the Vietnamese officials saw the birthplace on his passport. He called home several times throughout his stay to relay that he was being bullied, interrogated, harrassed and followed by the Vietnamese police.

[Unfortunately, this situation is all too common in Vietnam. Several Montagnard men have managed to go back, and each time have face lengthy interrogations on arrival at the airport and repeatedly throughout their visits about their activities and relationships here in Canada. Family members have been forced to sign statements accepting personal liability for any political uprisings that occur during their visit and we have obtained documentation of repeated police interrogations and physical harassment of family members of refugees resettled to Canada. Many of the men have never returned to their village again, as their visit brought significant hardship and continued police harassment upon their wives, children and extended families. In fact, one of Eka's founding Directors – herself Canadian-born – was denied her right to contact the Canadian embassy, while detained illegally by the Vietnamese police for 3 days after attempting to visit a Montagnard village in the Central Highlands.]


During his years in Canada, Yao had been working hard at many low wage, part-time jobs to save up enough money to give his wife a larger wedding, with a fancy dress and a big dinner for their families. Like many other young Montagnard, Yao got married during a time of heightened violence and severe oppression. Large village gatherings were banned and the Vietnamese police would observe and severely restrict attendance at community celebrations like weddings. Yao was so happy to be able to surprise his wife with this big party when he arrived back in Vietnam. And they did have a lovely time, Yao said it was everything he had hoped for and that he was getting sad, as he was due to come back to Vancouver on Sept 3rd, when his visa expired. I think he knew it would be a long battle to convince CIC that in fact they really were married and that they wouldn't able to be together permanently for a very long time. The uncertainty of the appeal of CIC's decision weighed heavily on him, even though several excellent lawyers had agreed to assist him pro bono with his complicated case.

To compound the tragedy of Yao's story, he had been alone for a very long time and during this period became close friends with a young Montagnard girl he'd met in the refugee camp who had bravely escaped through the jungle as a teenager. When the camp was closed, she too was resettled to Vancouver and, although not outwardly a couple, they sought comfort with each other through the long, difficult years – a serious consequence of the extraordinary length of time CIC takes to process family reunifications. Yao leaves behind two very young children born here in Vancouver. At just 21, this young single mother is now alone again and utterly devastated that her children (3 years and 6 months old) will never know their father.

While the Vancouver Montagnard community is deeply mourning the loss of their close friend, their ability to carry on together with grace, faith, hope and humility in the face of the many hardships they continue to face is an inspiration to all Canadians – especially those of us who they've so readily welcomed into their lives.

Through all of the tears shed here at Eka and in the Vancouver Montagnard community, we are all taking some comfort in knowing that Yao was able to spend his last month on the land he loved, surrounded by his parents, village community and the wife he'd yearned so long to see again.  

Ashley Arden
Chair & Co-Founder
Eka Cooperative

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Eka Celebrates the UN's World Humanitarian Day with Two Special Montagnard Stories

Fluent in many dialects of several Montagnard languages, Kun Siu is the Church of Montagnard Society's community translator and volunteers coutnless hours with Eka to support his community here in Vancouver.

Kun left his land and his parents to escape religious persecution by the Vietnamese government through the jungle over the border to a UNHCR refugee camp in Cambodia, before being resettled to Vancouver in 2007. He will be unable to return to his village to see his family again, until he is able to obtain his Canadian citizenship. Vancouver East MP Libby Davies' Once in a Lifetime Bill would allow refugees like Kun a one time chance to sponsor a relative to Canada who wouldn't otherwise be eligible under the family class, like a parent, cousin or close friend. Without this legislation, many refugees like Kun who've been resettled alone are unlikely to ever see their family members again.

Kun's message on World Humanitarian Day:

Brak is also Jarai. His father was resettled to Canada as a convention refugee; however, the sponsorshop process took many years, and by the time Brak was able to come to Canada with his mother and siblings, he had already married and started a family of his own. His humanitarian and compassionate grounds sponsorship application for his wife and daughter, who is now 6, was recently denied. A nearly identical application for another young Montagnard refugee man who had been sponsored by his father and appealed to sponsor his young wife and child was approved. Neither of them claimed their wife or child when they arrived at the airport because they were questioned by ethnic Vietnamese border guards in Vietnamese, a language neither of them understands well and by a uniformed officer of their oppressor's ethnicity. In Vietnam, speaking about their wives and children to state police would put their families at high risk of harassment, interrogation and physical abuse. This small mistake left them unable to sponsor their wives and children under the standard one-year window sponsorship process. The refugee board's utter lack of consistency has turned the reunifcation of Brak's friend's family into a bittersweet moment for the community. Eka is working to appeal the decision, but it is unclear if Brak - who as a refugee is unable to return to Vietnam - will be able to see his wife and daughter again.

Brak's song for World Humanitarian Day:

Brak's message:





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Eka Cooperative
A non-profit, community service cooperative, we bring together individuals, communities and organizations committed to creating pathways to meaningful participation that unleash the vast potential of all peoples of British Colombia.