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Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005

Greens to push for Ainu say in Shiretoko future

Staff writer

KYOTO -- Green Party politicians, activists, and human rights and environmental groups agreed Saturday to pressure Asian governments and the United Nations to ensure that Japan works closer with Hokkaido's Ainu community, particularly in the Shiretoko Peninsula region.

At the second day of the Asia Pacific Greens Kyoto, representatives from indigenous groups in Australia, Fiji and Japan's Ainu community called for increased participation of Ainu in the management and preservation of the Shiretoko Peninsula in northeastern Hokkaido.

The Japanese government is seeking World Heritage Status from UNESCO for the area.

"The government talks about the need for 'nature guides' in Shiretoko. But what is really needed are 'nature guards,' " said Yuki Koji, an Ainu representative from the Utari Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that promotes Ainu culture. "Too often, in environmental planning, the needs of human beings come first and the needs of nature are second. It should be the other way around."

Koji said the Shiretoko bid was planned and carried out with virtually no active participation of Hokkaido's Ainu communities. He expressed hope that if it becomes a World Heritage site, Ainu would serve not only as guides but also as cultural ambassadors.

Following his presentation, participants agreed to seek, through Green Party politicians and NGOs in the Asia Pacific region, international pressure on Japan to recognize the rights of the Ainu in Shiretoko and to include Ainu communities in the maintenance and preservation of Shiretoko.

"The Ainu are a part of the land, and we at this conference have an obligation to ensure that they are included in the Shiretoko bid process," said Monica Morgan, an aboriginal representative from the Yorta Yorta people in southeastern Australia.

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The Japan Times

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