Tokyo: Japan’s government introduced a bill Friday to recognise the country’s ethnic Ainu minority as an “indigenous” people for the first time, after decades of discrimination against the group. The Ainu people — many of whom live in northern Hokkaido — have long suffered the effects of a policy of forced assimilation, and while discrimination has receded gradually, income and education gaps with the rest of Japan persist.
“It is important to protect the honour and dignity of the Ainu people and to hand those down to the next generation to realise a vibrant society with diverse values,” top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “Today we made a cabinet decision on a bill to proceed with policies to preserve the Ainu people’s pride.” The bill is the first to recognise the Ainu as “indigenous people” and calls for the government to make “forward-looking policies”, including measures to support communities and boost local economies and tourism. The Ainu have long suffered oppression and exploitation, and the modern Japanese government in the late 19th century banned them from practising their customs and using their language.