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Tsuguo Kuzuno, Yuji Shimizu, 7 May 2018

TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI: Hi everybody, thank you so much. I think there are still a few people trickling back in from their lunches. But we're slightly over time already so I think we should start the next session.

My name is Tessa Morris-Suzuki, I'm from the Australian National University [ANU], or I should really say I was from the Australian National University until two weeks ago when I reached retirement age, so this is actually my last kind of official ANU activity.

And it's my very great pleasure to introduce the next group of speakers, who come from Japan. So we have Shimizu Yuji, Shimizu is the surname, who is the head of a group called Kotan no Kai, which has been very actively engaged in the repatriation of Ainu remains.

And we have Kuzuno Tsuguo, who is also very much involved in these, particularly has been very much involved in performing the ceremonies for the return of remains in Hokkaido.

And Jeff Gayman who is from the University of Hokkaido, and is a noted researcher of Ainu cultural issues.

I'm going to leave them to do a little bit of self-introduction themselves first, and then they're going to show a documentary that runs for a little bit over 20 minutes, which I think gives a really good insight into the issues that they've been facing in Hokkaido, and then they're going to talk a little bit about the repatriation issues in the Ainu context after that.

So without further ado, I will hand over to whoever is going to start. Shimizu ...

TRANSLATION FOR YUJI SHIMIZU: My name is Shimizu Yuji, it's my great honour to be here on this land, and to be invited to speak, in this participation, in this event, which was something that I'd been waiting for the chance to participate in for a number of years.

TRANSLATION FOR TSUGUO KUZUNO: I am Kuzuno Tsuguo, I am the vice chairperson of the Kotan no Kai Association, of which Shimizu is the chairperson.

And I also am involved in the ceremonial, I was in charge of the reburial ceremonies which took place two years ago and last year, and which I will be speaking about in a moment. It's my great pleasure and honour to be involved in this event today.

So we will now have a screening of the repatriation which was achieved two years ago for the first time.

[Video plays]

TRANSLATION FOR YUJI SHIMIZU: Thank you for watching our DVD. This morning after listening to all of the presentations, there was the doubt in my mind as to why remains are collected in the first place.

So in 2008 the Hokkaido University information disclosure research group was formed to review university records with regards to human remains.

And so in our examinations of the records and our study of history we came to find out that the Ainu were in the past considered to be a racial isolate living in the Far East.

And against one university which had been engaged in this kind of research, Hokkaido University, there was litigation made by three of our compatriots, and this resulted in the out of court settlement which you saw in the video.

And as the recipient organisation for the remains, Kotan no Kai, referred in the video as the Kotan Association, was formed, and we discussed amongst one another what our principles should be, and came up with the following three principles ...

... the first of which being, we shall pursue a sincere and earnest apology from Hokkaido University researchers and researchers from other universities who were engaged in the collection of our Ainu ancestral remains.

And the second being that we as Ainu, being a recipient organisation for these remains, would delve into the reception and reburial activities [inaudible] the ceremonies of these with our most sincerity and all of our earnest efforts.

And even though this was unchartered territory for us to be engaged in this reburial ceremony for the first time, we felt that it was incumbent upon us that we should share our activities domestically and internationally.

And so that brings us to the actual activities that we as the Kotan Association, Kotan no Kai, have been engaged in. And the vice chairperson will now explain those.

TRANSLATION FOR TSUGUO KUZUNO: The Meiji government of Japan in 1869 renamed what had until then been known as the Ezo territories into Hokkaido. And upon this renaming, the Ainu were limited in their fishing, gathering, and other activities. If we took salmon, that would be poaching, if we took trees, that would be stealing.

And with the influx of settlers from the mainland, we Ainu believed that perhaps things would get better. However ...

But what the Meiji government did was actually a trap to hang us with a very soft cloth.

And before we knew it, we were unable to move at all, move our necks. And with the introduction of democracy, we became a minority.

And I think that this is nothing other than the assimilation policies of the Meiji government.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the renaming of Hokkaido, and there are many public events going on celebrating this.

And looking back over the 150 years from the perspective of the colonisers, I ask, when are celebrations going to be made of our Ainu indigenous history? It's time to recognise Ainu rights.

No explanation has ever been offered to us Ainu people about why these things happened. No explanation has ever been offered to us about what was found out from the research of our ancestral remains.

And amongst our Ainu community there are different factions.

And within these organisations, one very large organisation, the Hokkaido Ainu Association, is making moves for what is known as a reburial with dignity.

However, a dignified reburial, according to my father, the Ainu elder, Kuzuno Tatsujiro, is for an Ainu person to be born from the earth and to return to the earth. And a dignified reburial should be one which follows our Ainu customs and culture.

My father, when he was about ready to go to the other world at the age of 91 or 92, asked, ‘What's going to become of me when I pass away?’

At the time, the custom amongst the mainstream Wajin population was to cremate the dead, and my father said, ‘If I'm cremated, it's gonna be awfully hot’.

And when he passed away, for this reason, when he passed away, I made the decision to have a burial where he would be returned to the earth.

And pushing through the opposition of the neighbourhood, and pushing through the opposition of people around me, I inquired to the town office, ‘Why is it necessary to have a cremation?’

And amongst the many liberties, the rights which are granted to individuals, one of them is the freedom of religion. And one freedom of religion is to bury people in the earth.

Nowadays our culture is not so strong. It's in danger of disappearing. My father entrusted to me this carrying on of the culture of burying our dead in the earth.

And several years passed after this, and I came to know of the existence of our Ainu remains in universities and other institutions throughout Japan.

And thinking to myself of the priority of this fact, I decided to devote myself even further to the revitalisation of our culture through being involved in the reburial ceremonies.

And that brings me here with you together today, and I hope that we can think about this together ... [foreign language].

TRANSLATION FOR YUJI SHIMIZU: So after this, the story continues. As a result of litigations we have managed to achieve repatriation in three different communities, and are in the course of litigation for repatriation to three more communities.

And the Kotan Association, Kotan no Kai, as the recipient organisation, has been the one who has been taking responsibility for reburying these ancestral remains which had been repatriated.

And they were taken from 50 places in Hokkaido, southern Sakhalin, and the Chishimas for various reasons, and now stored at over 12 universities, 1700 individuals in Japan plus even more from abroad.

And when it comes to the repatriation of the remains which are stored abroad, this has been taking place through the Hokkaido Ainu Association, which is the largest Ainu representative organisation.

One individual was repatriated from Germany to Hokkaido and now is being stored in the ossuary at Hokkaido University. But I don't consider this to have been a proper repatriation.

On the other hand, with regards to the 12 individuals which were repatriated to Orokawa, which you saw in the video, after the out of court settlement was reached in 2014, and our Kotan Association became the responsible recipient organisation for these remains, I was having nightmares every night.

However, after much mental struggle and anguish as to the proper way to repatriate these individuals, to rebury these individuals, we had the three days of repatriation reburial ceremonies in July of 2015.

And from the night of the 17th, the final day of the reburials, my nightmares ceased, and I have been able to enjoy a good sleep. And this is a message to me from the ancestors that things are going alright so far.

So with your help and cooperation, we hope to continue our activities. Thank you very much.

TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI: Thank you so much. Do we have time for a question or two? Mike, can I ... Sorry? Okay, let's just have one or two questions. Yes. If anybody has questions or comments ... Yes, one here. And we'll start here and then ... Oh, sorry, I think it's going the other way around.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I found that very moving. And I was interested to hear about the repatriation from Germany, because I heard about that but I didn't realise that that ancestor had not been returned to the community, that that ancestor is still in the Hokkaido University. Is it likely that there will be a further return of that individual to their community? Is that going to happen?

TRANSLATION FOR YUJI SHIMIZU: In a nutshell, there are now other institutions which are in the process of trying to repatriate Ainu remains to Ainu communities, one of those being University of California, Los Angeles, UCLA. And the community from which this individual was disinterred has not agreed to be a recipient, so it's still pending.

With regards to the individual that was not repatriated but transferred back from Germany to Sapporo, we know the place, the village from which this was disinterred, and there are descendants of the villagers from this place where it was disinterred.

And despite that, the fact that it hasn't been returned to these descendants, but instead is now being stored in Hokkaido University is something which I cannot accept.

And as far as we know of, rather than that being reburied, it will be transferred to a [inaudible] facility at the Symbolic Space For Ethnic Harmony, which is being planned to be constructed by the Japanese government and completed in construction in 2020.

And I don't know any of the particular details of how Ainu remains will be stored there, but my imagination is that they will be put in a small concrete box. So that's just what I know about it.

QUESTION: [foreign language], I just wanted to share that, last year, three law professors from Hokkaido University came all the way to Hawaii to the tiny island of Molokai where I live to speak to me about Ainu repatriation.

I told them they had wasted their time because I am not Ainu, nor did I have any idea why they would come to speak to me about the remains of another indigenous group, and that they were better served to speak directly to the Ainu and to listen to what they had to say.

It seemed to me that they were having ... That part of this reason for them coming was they were having personal problems, and someone had recommended my name as someone to speak to about how to address conflict that they were having. And my answer again was go speak to the Ainu.

And I shared our experiences, but the bottom line was it was not our place to comment on it.

TRANSLATOR: So they approached you as someone who might be able to give advice as to how ...

QUESTION: Yes.

TRANSLATOR:    ... to achieve mental balance [inaudible] ...?

TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI: Thank you very much. Do you want to respond? Sure.

TRANSLATION FOR TSUGUO KUZUNO: Just an addendum to what the chairperson said about his nightmares ceasing to occur after the reburial ceremonies had been finished, this is an approximately hour and a half long ceremony, and I just want to add that as soon as the ceremony finished, that it started to rain. And in our Ainu belief, this is the Ainu spirits, the gods in the heavens sharing their tears of compassion with us Ainu.

So this was a symbol to me that our work is on the right path. So I hope that I can continue to ask for everyone's cooperation and support in what we're doing.

TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI: Thank you so much. I think we better end the session there 'cause we're just running over time. But as we do, I just wanted to say thank you to two other people.

One is [inaudible] Yukichi, the elder who you saw speaking particularly at the end of that video, but throughout, who's been a wonderful campaigner and unfortunately is too elderly to be with us.

And also I would like to say thank you to Kuzuno Daikichi ... [inaudible] sorry, who is Kuzuno-san's son, and who is learning from his father about how to do the ceremony. So it's lovely to see those traditions being passed on to the next generation. And thank you again to all the speakers very much.

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This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–19. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 14 November 2019

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