Revoke Japanese Policy Restricting the Ainu Indigenous Rights to Traditional Resources
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The Ainu are the indigenous people of contemporary northern Japan, many of whom reside on the northern island of Hokkaido. Traditionally, the Ainu have practiced a number of subsistence activities central to their culture, including hunting, small scale agriculture, and salmon fishing.
The Ainu and ethnic Japanese populations have participated in mutual exchange for centuries. In the mid-19th century, however, the newly-consolidated Japanese state began undertaking a series of policies and territorial advancements which transformed Ainu territory into a Japanese colony and subjected its inhabitants to severe repressions of their cultures and ways of life. The Japanese restricted the Ainu from engaging in essential subsistence activities such as fishing, which has been the foundation of generations of poverty and adversity for many Ainu communities.
Despite the Japanese government making steps to formally acknowledge the indigenous status of the Ainu, many archaic remnants of Japanese colonization are being maintained and enforced on Ainu lands today. In 2008, following the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the Japanese government officially acknowledged the Ainu though it wasn't until April 2019 that the Diet drafted a new Ainu policy which used the term "indigenous" for the first time in an official document. As the Ainu are indigenous inhabitants, they are entitled to their native lands and resources in addition to traditional practices. These are not only basic human rights, but are secured through international documents such as the UNDRIP.
Even still, the prefectural Hokkaido government maintains policies which have their origins in the colonial era, such as Article 52 of the Hokkaido Regulations of the Freshwater Fishing Industry. Article 52 infringes upon the Ainu's rights as guaranteed by UNDRIP in that it restricts their ability to fish salmon. Any Ainu wishing to engage in such traditional subsistence activities is required to first secure permission from local authorities. They are also only allowed to ask permission to fish in an event that is related to ritual practice. Article 52 does not even accommodate the Ainu fishing as a daily subsistence practice, even though this is a right entitled to them as Indigenous persons.
Hatakeyama-Ekashi, a renowned Ainu elder and activist, has been battling the existence of Article 52 for years on the grounds that it illegally barricades the Ainu from realizing their indigenous rights. Salmon is a sacred being for the Ainu, and every fall a ceremony called Kamuycepnomi is enacted to welcome the return of the salmon as they migrate upstream. Hatakeyama-Ekashi has annually fished for salmon as an essential part of the ceremony, though his past attempts have provoked police intervention on the latter's claim to be enforcing Article 52. In September 2019, Hatakeyama-Ekashi was finally able to catch a ceremonious salmon for the celebration without police intervention. However, his action was promptly reported to police who have since subjected him to severe and unjust scrutiny. On 5 September five police officers, on orders from the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, removed Hatakeyama-Ekashi from his home and transported him to the Monbetsu police station. He was subjected to hours of interrogation and had his cell phone confiscated. He was forced into interrogation sessions again on the 6th and 7th of September.
The treatment of Hatakeyama-Ekashi by Hokkaido authorities is blatant harassment of an indigenous elder attempting to rightfully practice his culture. The persecution by the police is based off an outdated colonial policy which infringes upon the Ainu's human rights and Japan's obligations to its indigenous inhabitants. Following the recognition of the Ainu as indigenous inhabitants by the Japanese Diet in April, a draft of a new Ainu policy was introduced by the government. Hatakeyama-Ekashi saw an opportunity for meaningful reform with the drafting of the new policy, and in July 2019 he wrote to the governor of Hokkaido to consider examining, revising, and/or revoking Article 52 of the Hokkaido Regulations so that the Ainu could realize their legitimate rights to their traditional resources. He was met with a response from the governor's office stating that there would be no change to the regulations, and that he should comply with the prefectural policy as it has been mandated since colonial times.
We at the Centre for Environmental and Minority Policy Studies (CEMiPoS) are asking for signatures for this petition so that Ainu citizens like Hatakeyama-Ekashi may freely practice their rights to culture and livelihood as guaranteed to them as indigenous inhabitants. We also wish to bring light to the injustice and unfair treatment to which Hatakeyama-Ekashi is being subjected by Hokkaido prefectural authorities. We are demanding that the Hokkaido prefectural government withdraw its denouncement of Hatakeyama Ekashi and that it consults the Monbetsu Ainu Association with equal footing about how to manage the natural resources of the Monbetsu River. Please help us make his story heard by signing your name on this petition, which we will be sending to representatives from both the Hokkaido prefectural government and the Japanese national government. Alongside Hatakeyama-Ekashi and all other Ainu citizens, we are calling for the revocation of Article 52. We are hoping that, with enough voices of solidarity, we can begin to make meaningful change and take steps towards legitimate decolonization of the Ainu people.
Thank you, Iyairaykere, ありがとうございます.
The Centre for Environmental and Minority Policy Studies.
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