Inauguration Speech at the U.N. Gneral Assembly
Ainu Association of Hokkaido
NOMURA, Giichi (former Executive Diector)
As the representative of the Ainu people, I wish to extend my warmest greetings to the delegations of each member state and to the other representatives of our indigenous brothers and sisters. Let me also express my sincere thanks to the Secretary-General, the Honorable Mr. Butros Butros-Ghali and Mr. Antoine Blanca, Under Secretary-General for Human Rights, for the invitation to speak here today.
Today, December 10th, is Human Rights Day, marking 45 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Human Rights, a day which should rightly be commemorated by all mankind.
Moreover, as the occasion of the inauguration of the International Year of Indigenous People, I can safely say that today is a day that will remain deeply engraved on the memory of indgenous peoples.
For we Ainu, who have formed a distinct society and culture in Hokkaido, the Kurile Islands and southern Sakhalin from time immemorial, there is yet another reason today will have special significance in our history. This is because up until 1986, a mere six years ago, the government of Japan denied even our extence in its proud claim that Japan, alone in the world, is a "mono-ethnic nation." However, here today, our existence is being clearly recognized by the United Nations itself. Had these ceremonies been held a few years earlier, I would probably not have been able to make this speech as the representative of the Ainu people. In the eyes of the government, we were a people whose existence must not be admitted. However, you need not worry. I am most definitely not a ghost. I am standing here firmly before you.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the land of the Ainu people was unilaterally appropriated by the gavemment of Japan under the auspices of a large-scale colonization and development project known as "Hokkaido Kaitaku." We were forced to become a part of the Japanese nationals. As a result of border negotiations between the Russian and Japanese governments, our traditional territory was carved up and many of our people suffered forced relocation. Moreover, the Japanese government pursued an aggressive policy of assimilation from the very beginning. Under this doctrine of assimilation, the Ainu language was banned, our traditional culture was denied, our economic livelihood was destroyed, and the Ainu people became the object of oppression, exploitation and severe discrimination. We were unable to continue our traditional way of life in our ancestral lands, as fishing became "poaching" and cutting wood in the hills was branded as "theft." This is an experience common to indigenous peoples everywhere. Although Japan was reborn as a democratic nation after the Second World War, the policy of assimilation has continued while severe discrimination and economic daprivation remain. Unfortunately, this situation is not even seen as worthy of serious government investigation in Japan, which has never taken our rights as an indigenious people into consideration, although we have been petitioning the government since 1988 for legislation that would provide some minimum guarantees of our rights and dignity as a people.
However, I did not come here to dwell upon the past. In the spirit of the International Year of Indigenous People, the Ainu call upon the governments of Japan and member states to enter into "a new partnership" with indigenous peoples. We call for the removal of injustices through cooperation and negotiation, values that were at the heart of our traditional societies. We invite the government of Japan to enter into a dialogue with us, as partners in an effort to create a viable role for indigenous people in the future of Japan. This is not merely a domestic issue; the overseas activities of Japanese corporations and the foreign aid efforts of the Japanese government are having serious effects on the livelihoods of indigenous peoples all over the world. This situation is linked to the indefference shown towards indigenous people within Japan. Through a new partnership, we believe the government of Japan will come to realize its responsibilities, not just towards the Ainu but towards all indigenious peoples.
In more concrete terms, as an indigenous people living whithin a highly assimilationist and industrialized society such a Japan, the Ainu request that the United Nations move speedily to set international standards that guarantee the rights of indigenous peoples against various forms of ethnocide. Furthermore, as an indigenous people from the Asian region, where there has never been a tradition of considering the rights of indigenous peoples, the Ainu urgently request that the United Nations set up an international agency to clarify the situation of indigenous peoples, and put in place a mechanism for positive financial support of this agency by member states.
The Ainu people, through negotiation with the Japanese government, desire the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples being presently discussed here at the United Nations, including the rights to self-determination as a people. However, we do not perceive this right to self-determination as being a threat to the national unity and territorial integrity of member states.
What we are after is a high level of automony based on our fundamental values of "coexistence with nature" and "peace through negotiation." We do not seek to create new states with which to confront those already in existence. We aim to achieve, through our traditional values, the development and realization of a society in which all peoples can live together in dignity.
In the Ainu language, we have a word, URESHIPAMOSHIRI, which signifies our concept of the world as an interrelated community of all living things. In this new era in which the world is grouping towards a redefinition of the international order following the end of the Cold War, we believe "a new partnership" of indigenous peoples which includes this world view can make a lasting and valuable contribution to the global community. It is the desire of indigenous peoples to make the future, full of the hopes of all mankind, an even better place.
IYAIRAIKERE. Thank you very much.