Nunavut’s legislature, government, land claims inspire grad student from Japan
"I am interested on how Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is involved, interpreted into policy in the government"
Other than MLAs trying to raise their profiles before a territorial election, there was one other constant in Nunavut’s legislative assembly during its recent sitting — the last before the Oct. 28 election.
Saori Miyazaki, a graduate student from Osaka University, Japan, sat bundled up in scarves and thick sweaters as she sat in the legislative chamber’s gallery over the two-week sitting, where she took in every word.
Miyazaki is researching indigenous rights — and comparing Australian and Canadian indigenous rights to those of the indigenous Ainu people of northern Japan.
Miyazaki’s goal: to advance self-determination for Ainu in her thesis, which will be completed in about two years time.
“[The] ultimate goal is to help the indigenous rights to be protected and coexist with indigenous and non-indigenous people peacefully and benefit from both cultures,” Miyazaki said.
Miyazaki’s researching different Aboriginal treaties in Canada, and in Nunavut, the Nunavut Land Claim’s Agreement. She’s doing that by interviewing Inuit from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Government of Nunavut.
“I am interested on how Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is involved, interpreted into policy in the government and especially the central government agreement since 1999,” Miyazaki said, pronouncing Qaujimajatuqangit in a strong Japanese accent.
Right now, she says most people think Ainu rights are not protected, “especially compared to the international standard, the United Nations Declaration om the Rights of Indigenous People,” she said.
Ainu live in a northern region of Japan, the island of Hokkaido, and in a part of Russia called Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
During the mid-to-late 19th century, Ainu were forced to assimilate through various laws, while Japanese settlers took over their land.
And the Japanese government banned most Ainu cultural traditions. The Ainu language — which is made up of several dialects — is now considered endangered.
“You can count with your fingers how many people can speak [the language],” Miyazaki said.
Ainu were only officially recognized as indigenous to Japan by the government in 2008, when the National Diet — Japan’s legislature — declared that Ainu do have their own language, religion and culture.
Now there are between 25,000 and 200,000 Ainu living in Japan.
But Ainu still struggle with identity, and want more development in the villages they live in, Miyazaki said.
“They are struggling with economic situations,” Miyazaki said.
“So if there is some kind of construction project, they like to invite that kind of thing to their village but at the same time if that happens, some income comes, but some culture [goes away],” she said.
Miyazaki said when she was an elementary and high school student in Japan, there was little taught about Ainu culture.
But Miyazaki wants to bring back what she’s learned from field studies in Australia and Canada to help strengthen the Ainu presence in Japan.
“[There are] lots of differences between [the] Japanese situation and [the] Canadian situation,” Miyazaki said.
“Many people say the Canadian situation cannot be a model for Japan. We cannot take that policy or that way of dealing with issues for Japan.
“But I think if I look underneath each layer, there are some similarities,” she said.
A large difference between Inuit and Ainu is in their numbers — whereas Inuit make up 85 per cent of Nunavut, Ainu are scattered in several towns and aren’t clearly defined as living in one area.
So Miyazaki doesn’t know if more recognition will come in a form of legislation, or a treaty.
But she hopes 30 years from now Ainu will have more respect.
Miyazaki is visiting Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet before going to Alberta to continue her studies there.