Omigod, Blog. The surprises just keep on coming down these days. A long last, goodbye “homogeneous Japan”. Even the GOJ says so… I don’t know what finally broke the ideological logjam, but I’m not complaining. Bravos! Arudou Debito in Sapporo
In landmark move, Japan to recognise indigenous people
by Shingo Ito
AFP/Yahoo News Wed Jun 4, 2008 9:06 PM ET
Courtesy of Chris Gunson
Japan is set this week to recognise the Ainu as an indigenous people, in a landmark move for a nation that has long prided itself as ethnically homogeneous.
The move comes ahead of next month’s summit of the Group of Eight rich nations on the northern island of Hokkaido, home to most of Japan’s estimated 70,000 Ainu.
Japan’s parliament is scheduled to adopt a resolution on Friday to urge the government to “immediately” provide support for the Ainu, who have long faced discrimination and income disparity, lawmakers said.
The resolution to be submitted jointly by ruling and opposition lawmakers stipulates for the first time that the Ainu “are an indigenous people with a distinct language, religion and culture.”
“It’s one of the steps forward, but it’s a major step,” Yukio Sato, an Ainu and director general of the Utari Association which campaigns for Ainu rights.
Hiroshi Imazu, head of a group of lawmakers submitting the resolution, said it was approved by Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday and is likely to be adopted “unanimously” in parliament on Friday.
“The Ainu people have had bitter experiences such as discrimination,” Imazu told AFP.
“As a human being, I think it’s natural to recognise them as a small but real indigenous people like Aborigines in Australia and Indians in the States.”
The Ainu, who are fairer and more hirsute than most Japanese, observe an animist faith with a belief that God exists in every creation, respecting trees, hills, lakes, rivers and animals — particularly bears.
The Ainu, who lived by hunting and fishing, are believed to have first formed their society around the 13th century mainly in Hokkaido but also the Kuril and Sakhalin islands, which are now ruled by Russia.
Ethnic Japanese gradually settled Hokkaido and in 1899 enacted the Hokkaido Former Aborigines Act, under which the Ainu were forced to give up their land, language and traditions and shift from hunting to farming.
The act was repealed only in 1997 and replaced by legislation calling for “respect for the dignity of Ainu people.”
But the law stopped short of recognising the Ainu as indigenous or, as some activists have demanded, setting up autonomous areas along the lines of Native American reservations in the United States.
Ainu activists had vowed to press forward their demands as the spotlight turns to Hokkaido for the July 7-9 Group of Eight summit at the mountain resort of Toyako.
“The timing was quite favourable for the resolution,” said Kazuo Kato, professor of sociology and head of Shizuoka University of Welfare in central Japan.
“The environment is high on the agenda for the summit, and you can’t ignore the existence of indigenous people when you talk about the environment,” said Kato, an expert on the Ainu issue.
In May, representatives of the world’s 370 million indigenous people, closing up a two-week session at the United Nations, demanded a say in decisions on global warming, saying they were suffering the worst impact.
The United Nations last year adopted a non-binding declaration upholding the human, land and resources rights of indigenous people, including the Ainu.
Japan voted for the UN declaration but stressed it would not accept any moves by indigenous people for independence or unilateral demands for property rights.
Experts did not predict any change in stance by Japan, which has in modern times seen itself as homogeneous and firmly rejected large-scale immigration.
Ainu remain among Japan’s poorest people with only 17 percent graduating from university, half the national average, according to a survey by the Utari association.
Sato said the group would still fight for the “dignity of the Ainu people.”
“We have not reached our final goal,” he said.