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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Panel formed to study Ainu situation, advocate policies


Staff writer

A government panel was formed Tuesday to recommend future policies regarding the Ainu after studying their current conditions and the discrimination they face, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said.

The move followed the unanimous landmark resolution adopted last month by both Diet chambers to recognize the Ainu as Japan's indigenous people.

In creating the panel, the government included Tadashi Kato, chairman of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, who has been active in pursuing the rights of the ethnic minority.

A government panel set up in 1995 to discuss Ainu policies had no Ainu members.

"(Kato) knows better than anyone about the lives of the Ainu and their way of thinking," Machimura told a news conference. "I've heard that there are many (different) opinions among the Ainu people, so I hope (Kato) will be able to put all of the opinions together and reflect them in the discussions."

Other members include Koji Sato, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University who specializes in constitutional issues, Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi and Teruki Tsunemoto, director of the Hokkaido University Center for Ainu and Indigenous Studies.

Machimura said the panel will seek to hold its first meeting in early August and monthly meetings afterward for about a year before putting together its recommendations.

The members will take a close look at how the Ainu live and evaluate past government policies. They will also bear in mind the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other countries' policies for their indigenous peoples.

The Diet resolution adopted June 6 urged the government to recognize the Ainu as indigenous and to take comprehensive measures to improve their situation.

Following the resolution, Machimura issued a statement recognizing the Ainu as an "indigenous people that have their own language, religious and cultural identity" and pledging to work to "promote current Ainu policies and establish comprehensive measures" based on such recognition.

The statement said the government "will take seriously the historical fact that during our country's modernization process, many Ainu people were discriminated against . . . and were forced to live in poverty."

The government had earlier refused to officially recognize the Ainu as indigenous. The resolution came just a month before next week's Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, the Ainu homeland.



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