Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Support Indigenous Ainu of Japan and Maori of New Zealand in cultural exchange

Exchange Program participants with Matarahi Skipper at his Maori Workshop in Ainumosir Hokkaido
In less than two months time, seven Ainu youth from all over Japan, will become the first of hopefully many groups of Ainu, to participate in an intensive 5-week-long exchange with the Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand through the Aotearoa-Ainumsor Exchange Program (AAEP). Their mission- to learn experientially from the initiatives of Maori people to maintain their cultural traditions while shaping modern society. Proposed by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, these future Ainu leaders will engage in fieldwork program in several fields:
  • Maori language education
  • Maori media
  • Maori tourism industry
  • Maori policy
  • Maori policy-making
They will also join in on important Maori events and celebrations including the annual Ratana CelebrationWaitangi Day, and the Maori Cultural Festival. The program participants were selected after a rigorous application process which included essay writing and interviews, and a solid commitment to a sharing what they learn in their communities upon return to Japan.

The Ainu and Maori, while separated by miles of ocean, share many similarities in their history, culture, and efforts to revitalize their rights, culture, and position in (now) mainstream societies. However, despite years of struggle and determination, the Ainu have only just gained recognition as an indigenous people by the Japan government; up until 2008, they were referred to as "former aboriginals." According to AAEP,
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 24,000 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.
The Maori have been successful in regaining their rights as indigenous people since 1970s. They have long maintained a strong presence in politics, run Maori language radio and TV programs/stations, have pioneered a groundbreaking approach for language education called Kōhanga Reo (language nests), and have their own universities. The Maori tourist industry is flourishing and as the years pass, education about Maori history and culture is being incorporated into mainstream education, creating a more cohesive New Zealand society. AAEP hopes to build a generation of Ainu leaders that are proud of their identity as Ainu who will work to create a Japan that is more accepting of diversity.

Maya Sekine (pictured below) is the youngest participant in the group:
Irankarapte. Ku-rehe anakune Sekine Maya ne (My name is Maya Sekine).  What I would like to learn in Aotearoa is the similarities and differences between Ainu people and people in Aotearoa. I would also like to learn about Maori language and cultures. When I come back here, I would like to do my best to utilize what I learned in Aotearoa. Suy unukar an ro (See you later.)
Hirofumi Kibata (pictured above far left) hopes this experience will open him to a new world "not only for himself, not only for Ainu and Maori, but so that everyone can see the world from a new perspective." You can read more messages from the participants at the Aotearoa-Ainumosir Exchange Program (AAEP) blog.

Once the participants reach Aotearoa, several organizations, including the Advancement of Maori Opportunity, will cover transportation, most meals, and accommodation.  Over the past 9 months, AAEP has raised enough money to cover most of the airplane tickets, but funds are still needed for several more tickets for interpreters and the AAEP chair, insurance, daily expenses, reports and information exchange sessions in Japan, and maintenance of the program for future exchanges.

Maya Sekine, from Nibutani, is a heritage learner of the Ainu language.  
In order to raise these funds, AAEP has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Already, in two days, they have received 35% of their goal of $10,000. With your help, they can reach their goal or even surpass it. A successful Indiegogo campaign encourages a crowd of people to support it, not only with monetary donations, but by spreading the word through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Google+. The more people talking and donating to the campaign, even in small amounts, the more momentum the campaign gains, which brings even more people to the project.

Become a part of the movement to bring resurgence to the Ainu culture and Ainu society in Japan! In exchange for contributions, you can receive an Ainu jaw harp, an original program T-shirt or unique woodblock print designed by Ainu artist Koji Yuuki, head of the Ainu Art Project.

Watch the video below to find out more, or click here to watch it directly on the campaign site!

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