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SOCIETY > Human Rights

Gov’t to specify for the first time Ainu are indigenous people

  • January 10, 2019
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

The government will submit a new bill on the Ainu to an ordinary Diet session to be convened late this month. The bill is aimed at improving the Ainu people’s status and promoting their culture by specifying the ethnic group as “an indigenous people” for the first time, the Sankei Shimbun learned on Jan. 9. The purpose of the bill is to develop an environment where the Ainu can live with pride. With the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled for next year, the bill is also aimed at demonstrating to the international community that Japan is a country where people of different races can live together. The government will try to pass the bill as soon as possible.


The administration, on the premise of promoting related measures, will clearly specify “the Ainu as an indigenous people” in the text of the bill. In 1997, when the Act on the Promotion of Ainu Culture, and Dissemination and Enlightenment about Ainu Traditions, etc. came into force, the administration postponed specifying the group as an indigenous people because discussions on the definition of indigenous people were still halfway at the time.


By clearly stating that the Ainu are an indigenous people in the new bill, the government aims to ban discrimination against the Ainu and the infringement of their rights, as well as to create a society where people respect the ethnic pride of the Ainu.


The bill will also include a provision that each local government will use Ainu culture to draw up projects for promoting regions and industries and make regional plans to implement the projects. If the government approves the projects, local governments will be eligible to receive grants. In order to preserve Ainu traditions, the bill will incorporate provisions that will allow gathering forest products as a special case and giving special consideration to catching salmon.


In 2008, both the Upper and Lower Houses adopted a resolution to call on the government to recognize the Ainu as an indigenous people.


The government plans to open “the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony” (nicknamed Upopoy) in the town of Shiraoi, Hokkaido, in April 2020, to promote Ainu culture. In response to a growing global movement to give consideration to indigenous people, the administration decided that new measures to support the Ainu are necessary.


According to the Council for Ainu Policy Promotion of the Cabinet Secretariat, a survey conducted by the Hokkaido prefectural government in 2017 found that about 13,000 Ainu are living in Hokkaido.


Elements in the new bill on the Ainu 

  • The bill will specify in its text for the first time that “the Ainu are an indigenous people.”   
  • The government will entrust a designated corporation to administer “the Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony” where visitors can experience Ainu culture.
  • The government will decide on a basic policy for the effective promotion of measures for the Ainu people. 
  • Local governments will draw up regional plans to develop an environment for the promotion of Ainu culture and the central government will provide grants for the  implementation of approved projects.
  • In order to preserve Ainu culture, the government will give special consideration to catching salmon and other activities.
  • The government will establish a headquarters for Ainu policy promotion with the chief cabinet secretary as the head.                                        


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