Hokkaido mulls museum revamp, new name to reflect Ainu perspective

Kyodo

Hokkaido is considering overhauling historical displays at its prefectural museum to showcase the indigenous Ainu people, who were deprived of their livelihoods and culture through the island’s development.

The Historical Museum of Hokkaido, which in Japanese is called Hokkaido Kaitaku Kinenkan (Hokkaido Pioneer Memorial Hall), will be renamed the Hokkaido Museum in spring 2015, prefectural officials said.

During the postwar development of Hokkaido, the Ainu were forced from their ancestral land by settlers from Honshu and elsewhere. The prefecture is home to an estimated 24,000 Ainu.

“Changing the name and reviewing the display contents would be a big step forward,” said Kazushi Abe, assistant executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government is expected to present a renovation plan for the museum to the prefectural assembly as early as October. The renaming would be formalized through an ordinance to be introduced next spring.

The central government is also considering building a national museum in Hokkaido to promote understanding of the history and culture of the Ainu, and plans to develop a basic plan for the facility in fiscal 2014.

The Historical Museum of Hokkaido opened in Atsubetsu Ward, Sapporo, in 1971, and includes displays of traditional Ainu dwellings and clothing.

But the prefectural government has judged that these exhibits need to be expanded to incorporate the perspective of the Ainu. This is due in part to the recent surge in interest in the indigenous people, the officials said.

The central government’s assimilation policy for the Ainu, which is not described in detail at the museum, would be covered in more depth. Other exhibits would explain how the 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act banned the Ainu language and established special schools to force the Ainu to adopt the Japanese language and lifestyle. The law was repealed in 1997.

The museum would also illustrate the hardships endured by the Ainu during the founding of modern Hokkaido, underlining how their society and culture were changed after being denied the right to hunt, fish for salmon and engage in other traditional pursuits. Instead, they were given tiny plots of infertile land and ordered to switch to farming.

Yugo Ono, a geography professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, said: “If the new museum excludes the word ‘pioneer’ from its name and talks about the history of Hokkaido with an emphasis on the Ainu perspective, this will be very meaningful.

“I want the (museum) to show through its displays the opinions of the contemporary Ainu people and the importance of recovering the rights of indigenous peoples.”