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  • Ainu people at a protest in front of the G8 meeting, Japan, July 6, 2008.

    Ainu people at a protest in front of the G8 meeting, Japan, July 6, 2008. | Photo: EFE

Published 17 August 2020
Opinion

The Ainu can only fish for non-commercial purposes and by requesting prior permission.

A cultural organization of the Ainu People Monday sued the Japanese State and the Hokkaido Island government so that the authorities recognize their indigenous rights and lift the ban on commercial salmon fishing in rivers.

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The lawsuit is the first of its kind filed by members of this Indigenous people, who were subjected to forced assimilation more than a century ago.

Although Japanese law recognizes the Ainu as an indigenous people, it does not guarantee their right to self-determination or other tribal rights because the Japanese State argues that there are no longer tribes in the national territory.

Fishing for salmon in rivers is illegal under both the Fisheries Resources Protection Act and Hokkaido's legislation. Currently, the Ainu can only fish for non-commercial purposes and by requesting prior permission.

The plaintiffs, which are members of an Urahoro Town's organization, include descendants of Ainu communities that inhabited the surroundings of the Tokachi River in the 17th century.

The plaintiffs argue that they still keep their ancestors' rights to fish for their livelihood. In the Meiji era (1868-1912), however, the Japanese rulers abolished this right and forced the Ainu to abandon their customs.

According to the complaint, the government ignored and violated the Ainu's right to fish and hunt when it expropriated land in the northern islands.

The plaintiffs maintain that they have the right to exploit these lands for their daily livelihood unless the Japanese authorities can offer a "legitimate reason" for placing their ancestors' territory under state ownership.

The Japanese government argues there are no tribes with rights to the land and salmon fishing since the assimilation policy led to the "disappearance" of traditional Ainu villages.

In 1997, the authorities enacted a law to preserve the culture and guarantee the human rights of the Ainu. However, its legal recognition as an Indigenous people only occurred in 2019.

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