media release

Indigenous cultural revitalization in Japan

November 13, 2013

George Nicholas (Burnaby resident), 778.782.5709,
(email best contact until return from Japan, Nov 20)
Joe Watkins, (email best contact)
Kristen Dobbin, IPinCH communications, 778.782.9682,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


When a Simon Fraser University-based global research group’s members attend a symposium in Japan this month, they will highlight the good that can come from healing the relations between former colonizers and colonized people.

George Nicholas (SFU archaeologist); Joe Watkins (chief supervisory anthropologist, Tribal Relations and American Cultures, U.S. National Park Service); David Schaepe (Stó:lō First Nation Research and Resource Management Centre) and Rachel Giraudo (California State University anthropologist) are members of the SFU-based Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage (IPinCH) project.

IPinCH, led by Nicholas, recently became the inaugural recipient of a major Canadian award for its unprecedented form of collaborative research and community engagement to aid, globally, indigenous communities’ reclamation and protection of their cultural heritage.

IPinCH and the Center for Ainu & Indigenous Studies at Hokkaido University in northern Japan have co-organized Indigenous Heritage and Tourism: Inheritance and Creation of Living Heritage, Nov. 15-17, at the university in Sapporo.

Members of the Ainu, Japan’s indigenous people, academic researchers and representatives from Japanese municipalities, businesses and tourism industries will discuss the mutual benefits of their collaborative work on helping Ainu communities heal from colonial damage.

The Ainu have endured assimilation and the appropriation of their cultural heritage—some of the same experiences that have motivated Canada’s First Nations people to launch movements such as Idle No More.

But Nicholas and Watkins say symposia, such as the upcoming one, which highlight how collaboration on restitution is helping the Ainu regain intellectual property, will encourage the group’s continued political, economic and cultural revitalization.

“With official government recognition of the Ainu as an indigenous people in 2008, there has been growing attention to the need to preserve and protect Ainu culture and heritage, both from within and outside of the community,” notes Nicholas. “The Ainu are at a critical junction in their history as they develop new relationships with researchers, corporations and the Japanese state.

“A major Japanese corporation, Mitsui & Co., Ltd., developed recently a memorandum of agreement with the Hokkaido Ainu Association to create a cultural conservation forest. This would allow the Ainu access to forest areas that have important heritage sites, as well as traditional food and economic resources.”

Watkins adds: “Ainu craftsmen still need local materials from the forest areas to produce their artistic wares. This symposium calls attention to the growing actions of corporations who are stepping beyond the legal requirements and recognizing a moral obligation to their local communities.”

Since 2009, IPinCH has been collaborating with the Centre for Ainu and Indigenous Studies, the Hokkaido Ainu Association and Ainu community representatives in Hokkaido on developing polices and protocols to protect Ainu heritage.

IPinCH has also been translating reports and other information on innovative cultural heritage preservation initiatives into Japanese. The project has brought together First Nations, Native American heritage and academic experts with Ainu and Japanese scholars to exchange information and foster Ainu people’s control over their heritage.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada's top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

No comments yet

<p><a href="/content/sfu/sfunews/comment_guidelines.html?keepThis=true&amp;TB_iframe=true&amp;height=700&amp;width=700" class="thickbox">Comment Guidelines</a><br>