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Visit to the Ainu – Japan

l-r: President Chartier, Mr. Yamashita, Dr. Kenichi, and Mrs. Keira

President Chartier hosted by Dr. Kenichi Matsui of the University of Tsukuba spent two weeks in Japan giving lectures on the Métis Nation, as well as visiting the Ainu institutions.  On December 11th President Chartier spoke at the University of Tsukuba on Métis Nation history, rights, research and traditional knowledge.  The presentation lasted one hour, followed by half an hour of questions and answers.

The next day, President Chartier spoke at the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies in Yokohama, this time on the emergence and evolution of the Métis Nation.  This session was attended by a group of English speaking students and faculty.

The following day, Dr. Matsui and President Chartier flew to Sapporo, Hokkaido and had a traditional supper of bear meat at the home of Tomoko and Mitsunori Keira, of the Ainu organization Yay Yukar No Mori.  Mrs Keira, a skilled Ainu artisan in the making of traditional clothing, is also a leading figure in the revival of Ainu traditions and culture.

The Ainu are one of the Indigenous people in Japan, living primarily in Hokkaido (an Island) and northern mainland Japan.  There are other Ainu living on the southern part of Sakhalin Island.  The history of the Ainu within Japan is quite similar to that of the Métis Nation in that they were also dispossessed from their lands through an allotment system as individuals and not dealt with as a collective.  They have also faced assimilation policies, and the denial of their continued existence as an Aboriginal people.  Similar to the Métis, the national government’s policy of non-recognition has been slowly changing. In June 2008, the Japanese government officially recognized the Ainu as the indigenous people of Japan.

The next day, President Chartier had an opportunity to visit the Hokkaido Korean School which is a privately funded elementary to high school established by the Korean population in Hokkaido so that the Korean children do not lose their language and culture.  The majority of the Korean population in Japan had been brought to Japan for forced labour against their will in the early twentieth century.  While many returned home in the mid-twentieth century, there are still several hundred thousand remaining.  The Japanese government does not recognize the school nor its graduates.

Later that day, President Chartier met with Yukio Sato, Secretary-General of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido at their national office in Sapporo.  There was a wide-ranging discussion, including a reference by the Secretary-General of the inspirational work of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) which greatly influenced them in the 1980s.  The two leaders spoke of the many common issues facing their respective peoples and agreed that it would be beneficial to both to enter into a dialogue and further exchange of ideas and information.

Hosted by Mr. Keira, President Chartier was also able to visit the Ainu villages of Nibutani and Shiraoi, and the Ainu museums in the respective communities.

Close to Nibutani, the Japanese government against the wishes of the Ainu built a large dam which affected their traditional territories and sacred sites.  As part of the attempted mitigation of this intrusion, the national government provided funding to set up an Ainu museum at Nibutani.  The main purpose of the museum is to promote Ainu culture and language for the Ainu themselves, while at the same time educating non-Ainu about Ainu culture and history.

On another day, a visit was made to a privately created and run Ainu museum, Poroto Kotan, at Shiraoi.  This museum also had several Ainu dogs and bears on display, as well as live performances of Ainu dance, music and artistic creations.  The delegation before viewing the performances had a lengthy meeting with museum Director, Mr Masahiro Nomoto.  Matters discussed included the challenges surrounding the self-sufficiency of running the museum, which they hope will be helped by a campaign to encourage more people to visit the museum.  Regardless of the challenges, the role that the museum plays in researching, preserving and promoting the Ainu culture, traditions, language and heritage is worth the effort according to the Director.

In both Sapporo and Tokyo, President Chartier also made presentations on the Métis Nation to the organization, Peaceboat, which organizes cruises to different parts of the world, combined with lectures on the pressing issues confronting the populations in the countries which the peace boat is visiting.

According to President Chartier this two-week speaking and meeting journey in Japan was well worth the time and effort.  “The opportunity to speak on Métis Nation issues at universities and with organizations was truly great, and in particular it was very rewarding having the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with the Ainu people an exchange I truly hope will continue”, stated President Chartier.

University of Tsukuba

Ainu art by Mrs. Keira

Korean School (Clem Chartier and Gyonwa Shin, School Principal)

Clem Chartier and Yukio Sato, Secretary-General of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, and staff

Clem Chartier and Ainu artisan, Maki Sekine

Clem Chartier and Ainu Museum Director, Mr Masahiro Nomoto

Ainu Dance

Ainu music

Ainu Traditional Knowledge – Dry fish (Chum Salmon)

Tokyo  presentation – Peaceboat

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