A group of 7 Ainu youth from Ainumosir (Hokkaido) are a mere one day away from setting out on their long-awaited journey to Aotearoa (New Zealand) where they will spend five weeks learning from the Maori.
Through the Aotearoa Ainumosir Exchange Program, the 7 youths, accompanied by 3 Ainu committee members and 3 interpreters, will spend their time studying the various ambitious endeavors of the Maori people who have successfully revitalized their rights as indigenous people while living with strength in the society of New Zealand.
The idea for an exchange came about in January 2012, when a Maori leader, Te Ururoa Flavell visited Ainumosir and Tokyo and witnessed the work Ainu people are doing in their communities to revitalize their culture, language, and rights. He immediately suggested that Ainu youth come to Aotearoa to see how Maori community members have been working to ensure cultural survival. Immediately, they formed the Aotearoa-Ainumosir Exchange Program Committee to seek out participants. After a rigorous interview process, they chose 7 Ainu youth to go on the exchange.
As part of the exchange, the Maori will graciously offered to cover the majority of food, transportation, and lodging, however, it was up to the Program to cover all the expenses, including the cost of getting to Aotearoa and back. For this, they turned to Indiegogo.
Six days ago, they reached their fundraising goal; however, a member of the Program’s Organizing Committee informs Intercontinental Cry that they still need to raise a little more money to cover some extra expenses and to create a safety net so that they can continue to have reciprocal exchanges in the future.
Why Does the Exchange Matter?
For many years, the Ainu have been working to build resilience in their communities. Unfortunately, due to fears of discrimination, many people still hide their Ainu identity from their children, family, and friends. This has led many to believe that the Ainu no longer exist. It was only in 2008 that the Ainu were recognized as the Indigenous Peoples of Japan.
In New Zealand, the Maori have been successful in their tireless work to advance the revitalization of their rights as indigenous people since the 1970s. Furthermore, the Maori people are contributing significantly to the development of New Zealand society in all of fields, whether economic, social, cultural, or political. The Maori language is an official language along with English.
It is certain that through this exchange program Ainu participants will gain enormous encouragement from their Maori counterparts who are making great strides in society while maintaining their culture and values as indigenous people.
It will also be an opportunity for young Ainu people in search of their Ainu identity to take their first steps on the Ainu path. Due to anxiety about deeply rooted discrimination which pervades society, or the inability for people to discover meaning in being Ainu, there are still many people who have yet to assert their Ainu identity. According to a Hokkaido Prefecture survey there are about 24000 Ainu people, however in reality there are several times more Ainu people than that figure leads us to believe. Out of the 5,000 to 10,000 Ainu people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone, only around 100 of them are active as Ainu.
It’s time for that to change.