Leadership Network members
discuss indigenous issues in Japan

Will Flavell talks about being part of the Leadership Network's te kahui Māori (Māori advisory group) who travelled to Japan in November to meet with members of the indigenous Ainu people and attend the Ainu-Maori Symposium.

Watch a video of the Leadership Network's te kahui Māori visit to Japan, shot and edited by network member Charles Rowe

Can you briefly discuss the reason for the symposium?

The purpose of the Ainu–Māori Cultural Symposium was to enhance engagement between the indigenous Ainu and Māori.

The Māori delegation had the opportunity to travel to a number of different Ainu villages to interact and engage with the people before the main symposium.

There are real opportunities for indigenous peoples around the world to work together on a range of issues including language and cultural revitalisation and policy making at local and central government level.

Who did you meet with in Japan and what did you discuss?

We met government officials and Ainu people. We travelled to three different Ainu villages (Akan, Biratori and Shiraoi).

During each of those visits, the Ainu people performed numerous traditional dances pertaining to their local area.

The Māori delegation were able to share their stories regarding Māori education, language, kapa haka and the Treaty of Waitangi.

In Biratori, we went to a Ainu museum where we had the opportunity to learn about the traditional way of living and the artefacts that the Ainu used.

The Japanese are building a large scale museum/performing arts centre in Shiraoi. There is a traditional village there that is currently used as a tourist space but also an educational centre for Ainu people to learn cultural practices there as students.

Can you describe the symposium?

The Ainu–Japanese symposium was a stand-out experience for me. It was the first of its kind.

There is still a disconnection between the aspirations of the Ainu people and the government. My hope is that there can be a stronger collaboration and that the dreams and aspirations of the Ainu people will be realised.

There is a continuing battle for indigenous peoples’ rights. Indigenous people continue to face discrimination, marginalisation and other major challenges, so it is important that opportunities like this symposium exist.

Informed public education and awareness building is critical to the implementation of indigenous rights. It is the responsibility of all.

Were there any similarities/differences between the Māori and the Ainu story that stood out in particular?

There are similar stories in terms of loss of language, culture, traditions and land. We were able to share our personal experiences of how we are aiming to continue to foster Māori language and culture in our education system.

We spoke about the media opportunities for te reo Māori with Māori television and radio. The way that we positively influence the mainstream with good stories. The Ainu were keen on learning more on how to influence the mainstream in Japan.

 There is limited education that targets Ainu language, culture and history in the mainstream education system in Japan. So we were able to share education models like kōhanga reo, kura Kaupapa Māori and Whare Wānanga.

Watch Māori Television's interview with Leadership Network member Pania Mathews

Are there any plans for future events to reconnect with the Ainu representatives you met to continue the discussions?

Language revitalisation is key for the Ainu people. There are less than five fluent speakers left, so young leaders will be coming to New Zealand to learn about the Te Ataarangi method of teaching and learning te reo Māori through coloured rods.

They will be visiting Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to learn about the courses there and will be visiting some Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori immersion schools).

I am hopeful that there will be future opportunities for the Ainu to showcase their culture to the world through the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Rugby World Cup.

What were the greatest learning’s you took away from the experience? 

I strongly believe that Māori have a responsibility to help other indigenous groups with the revitalisation of language and culture. Māori have worked alongside many indigenous groups in Canada, Australia, and Hawaii.

It is positive to see that Ainu groups will be coming to New Zealand to learn about what we do here. Delegations coming to New Zealand that will travel to Māori communities and organisations to learn about language and culture revitalisation. They will attend large Māori celebrations and visit places such as Rātana and Waitangi.

The Leadership Network provided a grant to the group to assist with the cost of travel.

Will Flavell is a member of the Foundation's Leadership Network. He speaks both Māori and Japanese.