Friday, April 5, 2024

"Anthropology society apologizes to Ainu people over past actions"

Image and text from The Japan Times, 4/5/24.

The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology has apologized and expressed its regret over its past research approach when dealing with the Ainu people, an indigenous group in the country.

It marks the first time that an academic society in Japan or abroad has apologized to the Ainu people, according to the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, a group of Ainu people working to promote their collective rights.

“That it has issued a sincere statement and apology is a step toward removing the distrust of academia,” a spokesperson for the association said.

The apology comes after a series of lawsuits filed in the 2010s seeking the repatriation of Ainu remains excavated for research purposes.

The society said that past mistakes resulting from the attitude that deemed research to be more important than respecting the Ainu people can never be undone. It sincerely acknowledges and regrets its past mistakes, it said.

The society also offered its apology and expressed its sense of responsibility to the Ainu people in the hope that they will lead to better communication with the group in the future.

“This statement does not arise from a selfish desire to impose something on the Ainu people. Nor is it issued to alleviate our own guilt,” Yoshinobu Ota, a member of the society's subcommittee on ethical issues related to Ainu studies, said in a news conference on Friday. “We want to use it as a starting point for communication and understanding, to learn about the questions and concerns the Ainu people continue to hold and what they want to know,” he added.

Shuji Iijima, the head of the society's ethics committee, also provided insight into the background of the apology. He said the society had been involved in various activities since 2022 to reflect introspectively on its past actions, including holding several symposiums to discuss its previous approach when conducting research into the Ainu people.

Iijima said that the committee had conducted interviews with a group of 36 Ainu people, consisting of 24 men and 12 women.

“In particular, it was mentioned that every time researchers visited, items disappeared from their homes,” he said. “Furthermore, it was noted that when researchers wanted to conduct research, they would come to consult the Ainu side, but when the Ainu people were in trouble, the researchers would not help.”

Iijima also said that the interviewees told him of unpleasant experiences in educational settings, such as the mishandling of materials they provided to classrooms.

“There were several who expressed a sense of resignation, saying that no matter how many times they spoke, researchers would not change anyway,” he said.

Ota said that examining researchers’ past involvement with the Ainu people further would be crucial for the academic society to decide on its future research approach, as researchers could face similar issues on ethics when dealing with indigenous people in other parts of the world.

It's not everyday that an anthropology academic association makes the news. This is a case of "too little, to late." It's unfortunate that anthropology doesn't make the news for all the good things...