Hokkaido is the Japanese name for Ainu Mosir. The land of human beings. The most northern island of Japan used to be the land of the Ainu people, an indigenous ethnical minority. They arrived in Hokkaido during the 15th century from the island of Sakhalin, now part of the Russian Federation. In the Meiji era the Japanese government forced them to abide by Japanese daily customs. In the end, oppression and exploitation turned into discrimination, a problem that still remains today. Nowadays there are only 50.000 Ainu left, 15.000 if we consider only those who have both parents Ainu. It’s only in June 2008 that the Hokkaido “former aborigines” turned into an “indigenous population with its own language, its religion and its culture” for the Japanese Parliament.
The lives of many Ainu are now relying on tourism. Many of them perform during the shows in fake Ainu villages or work as souvenirs craftsmen. Alternatively they work in Museums. Efforts to preserve the Ainu culture from extinguishing have been done by governmental institutions, by private associations and by single persons as well, like Shiro Kayano – the son of Shigeru Kayano, the only Ainu that was ever elected in the Japanese Parliament – who was among those who ratified the final declaration on Indigenous Minorities’ Rights at the Indigenous People Summit, held as a counter G8 summit in Sapporo at the beginning of July 2008, or like Asir Rera, a 62 years old woman who as devoted her life to maintain her native culture alive through her community. Too many dissimilar points of view though have kept the Ainu community disgregated and therefore powerless in order to keep their culture alive. Something that Ainu people have to change promptly to succeed in the battle for their survival.
In September 2007 the General Assembly of the United Nations ratified the ÒDeclaration on the Rights of Indigenous peopleÓ. The Declaration was voted against only by four countries, Australia, USA, New Zealand and Canada, where the biggest communities of Indigenous minorities, the Aborigines, the Native Indians, the Maori and the Inuit, live. I therefore decided to start a long term project on Indigenous minorities willing to reach those who are facing different problems across the planet and to narrate their way of living, focusing on the main struggles regarding the respect of their rights as human beings and as indigenous people.