Roles of CAIS
In December 2005, Dr. Mutsuo Nakamura, the then-president of Hokkaido University, declared it the university’s duty to provide national and international research and education programs featuring Ainu and other indigenous minorities while respecting their dignity in light of the historical background of the university and the Ainu people.
Based on this declaration, the Center for Ainu & Indigenous Studies (CAIS) was established as one of the university’s research facilities in April 2007. The Center plans to conduct comprehensive and interdisciplinary studies into Ainu and other indigenous peoples and to make proposals for their reciprocal coexistence in a multicultural society.
Public communication and education
The Center promotes interdisciplinary research and surveys concerning Ainu and other indigenous peoples around the world, and has six full-time professors specializing in history, archaeology, cultural anthropology, museology, linguistics and constitutional law. They provide open lectures to share research findings with the public and encourage Ainu people to utilize them. The Center also holds public lectures and other events regularly with researchers invited from Japan and elsewhere who specialize in the languages, histories, cultures, legal systems, intellectual property rights and other aspects of Ainu and other indigenous peoples as well as experts in the exhibition, operation and other functions of their cultural facilities. Above all, a semi-annual international symposium provides a forum for practical discussion on Ainu policies toward language restoration, cultural revival and improvement of living conditions as well as exchanges of opinions on issues to be tackled by Ainu people. For the symposium, researchers from universities and research institutions in countries with indigenous populations are invited, along with indigenous members of ethnic organizations and government institutions, to shed light on their actual situations.
In the area of HU student education, the Center provides undergraduate and graduate courses on the Ainu in conjunction with HU’s undergraduate and graduate schools as well as other institutions. The courses are designed to help students – the people tasked with carrying the future of humanity – to understand previous and contemporary experiences of Ainu people and strive for ethnic harmony. As part of studies in museology, social education and other disciplines, the Center also works closely with the Hokkaido University Museum and other institutions to hold thematic exhibitions featuring Ainu and other indigenous peoples around the world. This represents part of the Center’s efforts to communicate the actual situation of Ainu and other indigenous peoples today beyond stereotypes and preconceptions while exploring a new approach considered different from that of conventional museum exhibitions.
In addition to its full-time faculty members, the Center also enjoys the contribution of 12 part-time faculty members from HU graduate schools and other institutions. With this support, the facility also engages in research on Ainu and other indigenous peoples in a range of academic fields other than those in which the full-time faculty members specialize, such as political science, pedagogy and tourism studies. The Center further promotes joint research in each of these disciplines with other universities and research institutions in Japan as well as universities, indigenous groups and other organizations in countries with indigenous peoples. Specifically, it not only advances close research exchanges with research institutions focusing on indigenous peoples (such as establishments at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University and Norway’s University of Tromsø) but also serves as a point of contact for academic exchanges between HU and other universities (such as the University of Hawaii, the University of Oklahoma, and Finland’s University of Helsinki).
Indigenous studies involve the collection and analysis of historical documents and materials in related fields, and particularly in those of linguistics, history and archaeology. However, in the past, precious cultural properties of Ainu and other indigenous peoples have become scattered or lost after being gathered by researchers and collectors or as a result of interaction among indigenous peoples themselves. To enable systematic analysis of all such properties, it is essential for the Center to share information with universities and research institutions in Japan as well as universities, indigenous groups and other organizations in other countries where such documents, materials and cultural properties are found. The facility collaborates with other universities and research institutions in Japan and elsewhere to build an information network relating to indigenous peoples in order to support the effective advancement of indigenous studies.
Contribution to practical cultural inheritance and other considerations
Ainu culture cannot be considered monolithic, as the traditional lifestyles and culture revealed by historical documents and materials differ from those maintained or created by Ainu people today. Accordingly, the Center also places importance on researching the cultural inheritance of Ainu people. For instance, in its research on approaches to the museum display of Ainu cultural artifacts, the facility collaborates with Ainu people today in practical activities to carry on traditional crafts and other skills while incorporating contemporary tastes so that the essential characteristics of Ainu culture do not become defined through museum exhibitions. Staff from the Center also help in Ainu-language education in Hokkaido and further disseminate information and research findings to the Ainu Museum in the Shiraoi region for its project to foster practitioners of Ainu culture who can impart traditional Ainu knowledge and skills. These initiatives exemplify the Center’s efforts for effective contribution to Ainu cultural inheritance through the promotion of research and education in cooperation with the Ainu community.
Advice on Ainu policy promotion
In the Center’s role as Japan’s only research center specializing in studies on Ainu and other indigenous peoples, it has provided expert advice based on its own research findings to the national government for the comprehensive promotion of Ainu policy since the Diet’s June 2008 adoption of the Resolution to Recognize the Ainu as an Indigenous People. It also plays a role in communicating Ainu views and experiences in other countries to the government based on the belief that the government will need positive advice from experts in the field because indigenous policy represents uncharted territory for Japan.
In this way, the Center remains committed to helping implement policy measures for the promotion of Ainu culture and the improvement of their social status to create a society in which they can enjoy and carry on their culture with pride.