Report from Kanako Uzawa, Master in Indigenous Studies, University of Tromsø
Financial support for the project: “A comparison between Norway and Japan regarding ILO169” C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989
My question starts with “Who defines indigenous peoples?” “What is that for and for whom?” “If there is a definition and regulation in relation to indigenous peoples such as a law, how much does it protect rights of indigenous peoples?” Considering these questions as a departure point, I would like to focus and compare on indigenous peoples, Saami in Norway and Ainu in Japan as an example, particularly focusing on their rights and conditions as indigenous peoples under the international law, C169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.
The research has been based on a research method such as an interview and data collection that took a place in Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, and Japan starting from in the middle of July to the middle of September. A purpose of conducting the interview is to gain information that has various dimensions on the fact, for example the fact that Norway was the first country to ratify C169. Behind the fact, there are different dimensions or elements that build the fact.
For instance, I interviewed with people who have different perspectives on the matter of C169. Basically, there are six categories of people I interviewed with. The first one is some staff in the international labor organization. It was very useful to interview with them to get a better idea of what kind of projects they have as an international labor organization, and also of idea of how to implement C169. You could also get the better idea of how closely ILO works with indigenous peoples in a community level. My personal opinion on this was that they, at least, have reasonable training projects to disseminate information on this matter. The question is if that is suitable to practices and customs of an indigenous community, which I could not see further in the interview. Another benefit of visiting the ILO Office in Geneva was that I could collect, or at least, got a chance to take a look at information that is not officially opened to the public so that I could have a wider picture of the process in this research.
Second is the one who was highly involved with a ratification of C169 as the Norwegian government officer. Especially, it was very interesting to get information of what was an obstacle for the Norwegian Government to ratify C169. Additionally, it was also interesting to get information of how the position taken by Saami was seen by the Norwegian Government in a negotiation process. What I found it very interesting and nice in the negotiation process between Norwegian Government and Saami side was that both sides were actively involved with the process even though there were no procedures to follow as it was a new convention. Thus, they developed a new dimension in a consultation process of the ratification, which can be seen as an achievement in a historical context between nation states and indigenous peoples.
Third is the one who is an expert on the issue of indigenous peoples in general. This gave me more objective perspective on this matter, and had a chance to reflect myself as a researcher.
Fourth are the Saami representatives who are familiar with a local situation as well as the process of C169, which was very fascinating to explore. The representative gave me two hours to explain a history of Saami organization in Norway, and how strength from individuals became together as collective solidarity to gain more rights as indigenous peoples in Norway. Also, how the international, social, civil, and political movements have influenced the domestic movements, which led to a ratification of C169 and Finnmark Act.
Fifth is the Ainu biggest organization in Japan which holds lots of information on a local and international condition on the Ainu issue. Interviewing the Ainu biggest organization gave me a great opportunity to look at the current and local situation as a whole again. It was useful to know what a political situation of the Ainu biggest organization, the Association of Hokkaido, has as well as a history of the involvement with international movements among the Ainu.
The last one is the Ainu representatives who are familiar with a local situation. Given the chance to get involved with the community closely, I felt it was extremely important to be there to see how people respond to this kind of issue, and get to know what is really happening. Knowing a real need in the community made me think more critically how we can manage to develop a bridge that crosses indigenous peoples and nation states as well as the international organization.
Therefore, using the method of the interview was very useful, not only for information, but also for getting in touch with new and important people who gave me a new perspective on the thesis.
Getting information and analyzing these different dimensions fulfilled my main purpose of conducting the interview except the fact that I could not directly interview the Japanese government officer who is familiar with this issue. However, the information I could receive from the Japanese government is critically important in the thesis; therefore, I am currently working in a process of getting some contacts to conduct the interview through the internet or phone call.
Moreover, as a part of the data collection, I participated in the conferences relating to the issue of indigenous peoples, particularly the Ainu. Also as mentioned above, I did the data collection in the International Labor Organization located in Geneva, Switzerland, the Ainu Association of Hokkaido located in Hokkaido, Japan, the Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture, and the National Diet Library both located in Tokyo, Japan.
In addition to them, as it is mentioned above briefly, I also took an opportunity to participate in the local activities such as a ceremony and language class in the Ainu community. This observational participation added more color into all information I have collected in order to fill up the gap between the local and international arena on the matter of indigenous peoples under C169.
In conclusion, as I am indigenous researcher by myself, I would like to express my deep gratitude for the Centre for Sami Studies for the generous financial support to support my field work in a several countries. Without your support, I would not have been able to collect such a highly relevant literature and data such as conducting the interview with various people. The field work definitely made a remarkable footmark on my path to a completion of the thesis, which I hope to be contributed to wider target groups not only for the university. This also includes my wish to develop richer resources for the indigenous studies.