Ainu an indigenous people: Diet

Yomiuri: Diet rules Ainu are indigenous.

Summary: The Japanese government has been instructed by the Diet to officially recognize the Ainu as an “indigenous people” in the sense used in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (press release), to which Japan is a signatory.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura Nobutaka’s statement. Yomiuri assigns to Machimura this English money quote: “The government will strive to work out comprehensive measures [for the Ainu] with the understanding that the Ainu are indigenous people.”

You can read the full text of the “Resolution Seeking to Recognize the Ainu People as an Indigenous People” (アイヌ民族を先住民族とすることを求める決議) here. Meat:

一 政府は、「先住民族の権利に関する国際連合宣言」を踏まえ、アイヌの人々を日本列島北部周辺、とりわけ北海道に先住し、独自の言語、宗教や文化の独自性を有する先住民族として認めること。

二 政府は、「先住民族の権利に関する国際連合宣言」が採択されたことを機に、同宣言における関連条項を参照しつつ、高いレベルで有識者の意見を聴きながら、これまでのアイヌ政策を更に推進し、総合的な施策の確立に取り組むこと。

(Rough summary: The government shall recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — indigenous to the northern part of the Japanese archipelago and environs, Hokkaido in particular, with a unique language and distinctive religious/cultural practices. Having adopted the UN Declaration, the government shall furthermore seek advice from knowledgeable parties at a high level and develop its existing Ainu-related policies into a concrete, comprehensive strategy for abiding by the declarations provisions.)

Director of the Hokkaidō Utari Kyōkai (“Hokkaido Ainu Association”) Katō Tadashi interviewed on the subject (again, pardon the quick-and-dirty translation):

There are 46 articles in the UN Declaration. What will the Utari Kyōkai seek going forward?

The resolution proposes that the government “seek advice from knowledgeable parties at a high level” (高いレベルで有識者の意見を聞きながら), and in accordance with this we’d like the government to spend a year or so discussing the issue from historical, legal, and other perspectives. At that point, we would like them to sort out what can be done immediately, in the medium term, and in the long term, and proceed based on that.

It is said that the reason the government hasn’t recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people is because they are afraid of demands like “Give us our land back” or “Guarantee us seats in the Diet.”

The Utari Kyōkai has never said “Give us our land back.” When the Law for the Promotion of Ainu Culture (アイヌ文化振興法) was promulgated [in 1997], the policy details were finalized in accordance with the existing domestic situation. We want [everyone involved] to think long-term, not short-term (目先のことを望むのではなく、長いスパンを考えて対応したい).

Yeah, it’s a purely symbolic gesture at this point, and yeah, it may be partly driven by the idea that the Ainu could be used as ammunition in Japan’s ongoing feud with Russia over parts north. But a positive symbolic gesture is better than nothing … right? It’s also got to beat the Japanese government’s previous position, which was that the Ainu were indigenous, and a people, but not necessarily an indigenous people.

Rambling background and commentary in English at the BBC, via an article brought to my attention at Metafilter.

June 8, 2008

10 Responses

  1. Aceface Says:

    “Yeah, it’s a purely symbolic gesture at this point”

    No,this is more than a purely symbolic “gesture”. As president Kato has said,”the policy detail has finalized” along with the Law for the Promotion of Ainu Culture (アイヌ文化振興法) was promulgated [in 1997].

    Basically everything Ainu wanted was granted in 1997.But Hokkaido Utari Association was demanding the status of not just an independent ethnic group,but”indigenous people”based on UN declaration.
    This took more than a decade to settle among the member states and in the end,the U.S,Canada,Australia and New Zealand voted against it for the declaration contradicts their internal law.Japan voted for support.And the declaration was announced in September of 2007.

    “and yeah, it may be partly driven by the idea that the Ainu could be used as ammunition in Japan’s ongoing feud with Russia over parts north.”

    I don’t know where did you pick this idea and cconnected with the issue at hand,but it is a historic fact that Ainu’s belonging to the state was a concern for Tokyo because of the border conflict with Russia in 19th century.
    After Meiji restoration,many Ainu and Uilta were recruited in ranger unit of imperial army to patrol the border at Sakhalin.But I haven’t heared a single wordon Ainu issue in relation with Northern territory issues on Japanese side.

  2. Matt Says:

    Aceface, it is just a symbolic gesture, because at the moment it just amounts to the government saying “okay, you’re an indigenous people”. This recognition itself was important to the Ainu community, but it was also important as a first step to further change (i.e. actually getting what the UN declaration grants them in theory).

    I don’t know where you get the idea that basically everything the Ainu want was granted in 1997. The 1997 law was important, but the H.U.A. clearly thinks that further policy changes are still necessary–why else would Kato be talking about the need for long consultation and careful policy adjustments? (In particular Kato often talks about the need to make education, esp. higher education, more available to the Ainu community. That and preferential access to natural resources for cultural/spiritual practices seem to be the main things he hopes this recognition to lead to.)

    I personally believe that it’s a gesture made in good faith, and that it will lead to real change before long. But it hasn’t happened yet.

    But I haven’t heared a single word on Ainu issue in relation with Northern territory issues on Japanese side.

    Well, they’d hardly just come right out and say it, would they? The idea is that the Ainu will help put a different face on the northern territories issue–not just “that is Japanese land” but “that is our land as an indigenous people, it should be part of the modern state we belong to”. I don’t really see how it could work (Putin’s supposed to care?) which in and of itself makes me skeptical that this is a real motivation of the Japanese government, but I’ve heard the suggestion from a couple of different sources.

  3. Matt Says:

    (To be honest, my intention with that last passage was just to pre-empty hyper-cynical comments. Bottom line: the Ainu got the official recognition they’ve wanted since the founding of the modern Japanese state. The government did a good thing and further good things seem likely to follow. This news is 100% good and everyone involved deserves congratulations and credit.)

  4. Aceface Says:

    “I don’t know where you get the idea that basically everything the Ainu want was granted in 1997.”

    From the interview of Kayano Sigru in various media and personal conversation with Yamauchi Masayuki of Tokyo University(Yamauchi is basically a historian of Turkish revolution,but at the time he was writing lots about ethnic issues in former Soviet Central Asia and is born and raised and educated in Hokkaido.He is also an advisor to the government on Ainu issues and member of the board in some of the Ainu cultural foundation).I was also a student at Keio university’s ethnology/archaelogy course at the time,I do have some knowledge on the ongoing at the time.

    Although both Kayano(I’ve never met him in person,although glanced at him in the diet once) and Yamauchi(whom I knew well) didn’t say “Ainu got what ever they want”from the government,there were huge change in the situation in the 90′s that you could say Ainu had got most of the demand they had with the government.

    Firstly,Kayano was elected to national diet in 1994.Hokkaido government had established Hokkaido Ainu Cultural Research Center in the same year and then Ainu cultural promotion law in 1997 and followed by the establishement of National Foundtation of Research and Protection of Ainu Culture.

    The one big issue related with Ainu at the time was Nibudani Dam law suit against Ministry of Land,Infrastructure and Transport.
    Since the dam was already being built,the cause of the anti-dam activists were not met with final victory.However it was still siginificant because the court had made decision as the building illegal and recognized Ainu as “indigenous people”.
    (I hate to quote from wikipedia,but nonetheless it got what I wanted)
    the judge of the regional court of Sapporo said in 1997 as

    “but the H.U.A. clearly thinks that further policy changes are still necessary–why else would Kato be talking about the need for long consultation and careful policy adjustments? ”

    Ofcourse they think that way,since most of the projects are still under way or need for further development.Since half of the Ainu are not even living in Hokkaido these days,maintaining language and cultural heritage would be a huge task,but now Ainu has various infrastructures in Hokkaido and one in five minuites walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu gate and hudreds of millions of annual budgets and subsidies from the government for cultural promotion,you can safely say the government is doing more than just a word or two.

    “Well, they’d hardly just come right out and say it, would they?”

    Then,that is a pure speculation.No?If you ever heard the suggestion from a couple of different sources,I want to know.(and it better not be Tessa Morris-Suzuki).

    Besides you know that Ainus are also live in Sakhalin and Russian far east as Russian citizens,right?
    “that is our land as an indigenous people, it should be part of the modern state we belong to”won’t stand for the benefit of the Japanese side.It only backfires.And I have a feeling I’ve read this words came out from Russian politicians from time to time.If my fading memory is collect,I think I’ve read this on Japanese NewsWeek in 1991 when Mikhail Gorbachev’s first official visit to Japan.(The cover story was the map of Northern territories with picture of Gorby and Toshiki Kaihu,I think)and there,one of the Russian politician was being interviewed and said “the island belong to Ainu and neither Russians nor Japanese,so the Tokyo’s claim won’t stand”.I remember clearly since this was pretty warped answer.

  5. Aceface Says:

    I’m not going to fix all the spelling mistakes I’ve found in the precvious post,since there are just too many of them!
    Maybe I’ll send you a Japanese text next time and you translate that for me,Matt.

  6. Matt Says:

    First of all, let me just disavow that “disputed territories” thing. I was just outdumbing myself trying to short-circuit cynicism. And when I say “sources”, I mean “…of independent opinion/news” rather than “…within the government”. I hereby retract the suggestion, which is indeed speculation, and regret any credibility I may have lent the idea by throwing it in there. (That said, I enjoyed your Newsweek anecdote, so some good came out of this.)

    As for the rest, I think we are talking at cross-purposes a little here. I agree that Kayano’s presence in the Diet and the 1997 law were major milestones that had huge positive effects (still ongoing). Words were backed up with action, and the government and Ainu activists deserve credit for the change.

    What I’m saying is that this new development, the recognition as a 先住民族, is still just a gesture. Ainu citizens of Japan didn’t wake up this Monday suddenly enjoying everything they understand the UN declaration to guarantee them. That will have to come from lawmaking, which will, I expect, indeed be based on the declaration. So the gesture itself is important (since it’s the first of its kind in a way) but I think it’s going to be more important as a foundation for continuing change.

    Probably in 50 years’ time this’ll all be viewed as one long process that started in the mid-90s.

  7. Matt Says:

    (And don’t worry, facts and insight beat spelling every time.)

  8. Aceface Says:

    I apologize if I sounded more offensive than I should be.

    But so far,the only person I’ve heared about linkage between Northern Territory and Ainu issues was from George Archibald,the director of International Crane Foundation,who came to Rikkyo University in 1990 to make a lecture on crane conservation in East Asia.Dr.Archibald told me the research he conducted in Northern territories and brought up this idea about making entire islands into bio-sphere reservation under UN trustee and build some area for new generation od Ainu living in both countries to experience and re-educate the life style and culture of the ancestors.

    I e-mailed my friend at National Museum of Ethnology in Senri,Osaka about UN declaration.He found the UN declaration,a bit politicized because of the intrusion by the Bolivian president Evo Morales.Morales demanded control of land and more access to natural resources to the indigenous people.Which is what Morales government is doing in Bolivia in the form of confistication of the properties of multinational firms.Morales also demanded affirmative action in politics like certain quota for the seat in parliment and public office to be included in the UN declaration.That is the reason why the U.S,Canada,Australia and New zealand didn’t sign.However Tokyo had signed the treaty since H.U.A had promised the Japanese government that they are not intersted in land reclaiming or political affirmative actions.And Tokyo simply didn’t want indigenous activists arund the world come together in Hokkaido during the summit coming in 4 weeks.So there was a shared interst behind all this.

    My friend at NME was skeptic since Ainu maybe an indigenous people in category,but the surronding situation is completely different from other groups.
    He thinks that since many Ainu are now living in the cities,they are far from hunting gatehring lifestyle of the ancestors and those who live in rural Hokkaido work mainly in either marineculture(mostly salmon harvesting) or construction industry depending on public enterprise.And some of the demand from H.U.A may not serve their interest like free catching of salmons in the river by Ainu citizen or protecting ancient habitat from developers.Their are voices of silent majority Ainu who think H.U.A are for the intellectuals and artists who are making their living by being Ainu.
    So making new law based on UN declaration may not be a good idea since that has little connection to the everyday life of ordinary Ainu citizens who are becoming more and more urbanized and mixing with the majority of population through marriage.

  9. Aceface Says:

    “However Tokyo had signed the treaty”
    voted support for the declaration.

  10. Matt Says:

    No, no offense taken. It’s good to learn.

    The issue of who speaks for the Ainu is a separate one I guess–there’s no way to work it so that everyone is happy. Some of what the H.U.A. is requesting now, like improving access to education, sounds like just a good idea in general (has there ever been a group in society for whom improved access to education wouldn’t be a good thing?), and some of it sounds less relevant unless you’re an Ainu who’s really interested in reviving old traditions. Anyway, it seems like everyone is happy to settle in for discussion now instead of making a bunch of new laws right away, so I assume that all of this will come out in time.