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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008

Ainu seek law to fund support efforts

Staff writer

The Ainu Association of Hokkaido asked a government panel Wednesday to help establish a law to secure funding to better the lives of the indigenous group.

"Establishing a law is indispensable to promote comprehensive measures (to improve) the lives of the Ainu people and our education," said Tadashi Kato, chairman of the Ainu Association of Hokkaido and a member of the government panel.

Hokkaido Gov. Harumi Takahashi, also a panel member, backed Kato, stressing the need for a new law.

"A law based on comprehensive measures focusing on the lives of the Ainu and their education must be established, not only for the Ainu living in Hokkaido but all over Japan," Takahashi said after the meeting, the second of the panel's monthly gatherings.

During the meeting, Kato spoke of the current living conditions of the Ainu and of discrimination against the group. A 2006 Hokkaido prefectural survey showed that 38.3 percent of Ainu are receiving welfare as opposed to 24.6 percent for other residents of Hokkaido. While 38.5 percent of Hokkaido residents had gone to university, only 17.4 percent of Ainu have received a college education.

Kato also requested establishment of a permanent government panel whose membership would include Ainu and academics to discuss Ainu policies.

Koji Sato, head of the panel and a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Kyoto University, told reporters Kato did not demand an official apology from the government nor the return of the Ainu land forcibly taken by the government in an assimilation process during the Meiji Era.

"The tone of Kato's statement was filled with a strong emotion of wanting to discuss (Ainu issues) with an open-minded spirit without blame," Sato said. "Just like (Kato) didn't ask for an apology . . . it is my understanding that there were no (words) like compensation or return" of property.

Following a Diet resolution in June that for the first time officially recognized the Ainu as indigenous people, the panel was set up to look into the lives of Ainu and the discrimination they face. It will compile its final proposal on measures next summer.

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The Japan Times

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