National / History

Ainu still battling poverty and barriers to education, representative says

Jiji

Poverty and insufficient education remain major problems for many Ainu people, the leader of a group for the Japanese indigenous people has said, calling for stronger assistance.

Tadashi Kato, executive director of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, made the remark in a recent interview ahead of the July 12 opening of Upopoy, the National Ainu Museum and Park, located in the town of Shiraoi in Hokkaido.

Kato stressed the significance of the country’s first law recognizing the Ainu people as indigenous. The law, implemented last year, “marks a starting point for a new era,” he said.

He spoke about how 19th-century explorer Matsuura Takeshiro visited many Imperial Diet members energetically to raise their awareness of the plight of Ainu people.

Many parliament members showed sympathy, Kato said. “We are here today thanks to such powerful support.”

How to restore the rights of the Ainu people as an indigenous group is expected to be gradually established as discussions with the central government deepen, Kato said.

“Our society would go wrong if Ainu people insist Hokkaido be returned entirely to them and that they are the only ones that should be allowed to catch salmon,” he said. “How to build a society of coexistence is far more important.”

Asked about his involvement in Ainu-related affairs, Kato said he served as a social worker for 18 years in Shiraoi, where Ainu people have lived from long ago.

“The big problems are poverty and education,” he said. “You can’t go to high school if you are poor and can’t make a living, even if you take high school examinations.”

“I saw many children who had to give up because of poverty, even if they did well (at school),” Kato said.

The experience made him think about what skills would be useful for children who cannot go to school because their families do not have enough money.

Kato said he advised such children to quickly acquire computer skills.

Regarding the opening of Upopoy, which means “singing in a large group” in the Ainu language, Kato said the cultural promotion facility “will be a wellspring of education” to cultivate the ability to imagine in a society that embraces diversity.

The Ainu are a broad-minded people whose character has been shaped by their coexistence with nature, Kato said, adding that a fusion of different cultures will be important to efforts to build a better society.

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