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February 17, 2010

Native Americans Travel to Japan to Explore Indigenous Japanese “Ainu” Revival

Breaking new ground in an effort to support the revival of cultural heritage of the indigenous Ainu people of Japan, a delegation of Native Americans from the Puget Sound region will travel to Japan on March 12. In 2008 the Ainu were formally recognized by Japan's government as Japan's "first peoples."

The ground-breaking cultural exchange was officially launched in December 2009 when the Burke Museum, in partnership with the Ainu Association, flew a delegation of indigenous Ainu guests from Japan to Seattle, meeting for the first time on record with Northwest tribal representatives. This visit was the first part of a grant-funded community collaboration between six Northwest Coast Native American communities, the Burke Museum, and the Ainu Association of Hokkaido, Japan.

In an effort to support the revitalization of the indigenous Ainu culture of Hokkaido, Japan, the Burke Museum received a $120,000 grant from the Museums and Communities Collaboration Abroad program last year to coordinate a cultural exchange between the Ainu and Northwest Coast tribal groups, such as the Makah, Squaxin Island, Suquamish, House of Welcome Longhouse, Duwamish, and Tulalip communities. The grant focuses on the shared history of sea and canoe traditions between the Ainu and Native Americans.

The 10-person Ainu delegation visited in December where they met and toured Northwest tribal communities and museums, shared issues, and gained insight and background in US/American Indian law, treaties, and land claims vital for their negotiations with the Japanese National Government.

Says grant PI Deana Dartt-Newton, "We had no idea, really, the extent to which these indigenous peoples have experienced the same histories--their ancestors relocated, enslaved, and made to feel ashamed of their heritage as indigenous peoples. However, the sense of pride and excitement during the exchange was incredible and the empowerment as indigenous peoples coming together overshadowed the grief."

From March 12-20, an American delegation will travel to Japan to continue the cultural exchange with the Ainu people. Traveling to Sapporo, Nibutani, Akan, and Shiraroi, the four major regions of Ainu cultural revitalization, the ten member delegation will include Deana Dartt-Newton and Robin Wright (both curators from the Burke Museum), Lisa Marie Oliver (Quinault/Program Assistant), Anna Hoover (Aleut/Filmmaker), Dan Hart (Director, UW Native Voices Film Program) and one representative each from five of the groups who hosted the Ainu when they came to Washington State in December.

The collaborative project culminates in July 2010 with a shared canoe paddle celebration at the annual Tribal Canoe Journey, this year hosted by the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay. The event will feature a symbolic paddle with the Ainu people and the six Northwest tribal groups.

The Museums & Communities Collaboration Abroad (MCCA) is a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US Department of State in partnership with the American Association of Museums (AAM).

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