Friday, October 19, 2012


One thing my mother told me when she saw the road I was going on as a Winnemem Tribal Member was to share that Grandpa had Ainu blood, if not heritage.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe she just thought that might explain why I went the Winnemem way.  But that could be because our family don't  fit into the individualistic American way, our grandparents from a village in the mountains of the Gifu River.  Maybe that could be answered by the fact I was desperately homesick for our clan-like family, less contemporary like the immigrants from port cities like Hiroshima, Yokohama.  We were definitely old fashioned. 

It is true that Grandpa's facial features are not necessarily Japanese.  His nose is high bridged. His eyes doesn't have that fold.   Uncle George took after him and shares some of those less Japanese features.   Grandpa's values were nature centered.  I had assumed that he was more  Shinto and Grandma more Zenshu.  Couldn't his reverence for nature come from that source.  He lived in the mountains. However, didn't he talk about ancient rocks filled with kami with his little granddaughters.  Now that I'm 67, I know those things to be deliberate.   People did not really talk about being Ainu back then for the same reason people hid their indigenous roots in this country -- so their children would be safer in a racist society.

But I was warmed with mom's support explaining I might be a "throwback." She also shared that back in the day Grandma taught the girls with the onset of puberty that they would stay apart during those times in the old country but now that they were in America, they were going to do as Americans do.  She said Japanese were like the native people here in that way.   She explained she hadn't thought about it until she noticed that's how we were raising the girls -- a time for rest, and to be waited on.  I don't know.  I don't know if it were memory or kindness.

I appreciate my mother for her acceptance; that is the main message she gave me.

In a recent casual conversation with friends about hair -- that there was no one Asian Hair --  the listing off of Chinese, Filipina, Korean, Chinese, I turned to my  blunt speaking Japanese friend, and asked, "Do you think I have Japanese hair, Mike?"  I was teasing him because I'm sure he saw many things which were not Japanese about me.  He laughed a bit nervously, and said, "noooooooooooooo?"

 I laughed and said, "I embrace my salmon loving Ainu hair. "  I don't really know if I have Ainu in my background, but I do know that Mike and several others suspect there's something going on because of my being tribal.   I do know when my nephew showed me the Ainu women's hair tossing dance  I felt a little bit like when I first saw the man who fathered me when I was in my late 50's after not seeing him since I was two -- recognizing myself in his features, and the way he walked.  A strange feeling because there really wasn't any tie which remained for either of us which was familial, if ever it existed in the first place.

 Enjoy the You Tube piece.   I hope to witness this dance someday, as I hope to witness the salmon of the river systems of Hokkaido, and to meet the Bear People of the northern mountain islands of Japan.  The Ainu once were all over Japan, certainly in Honshu where my family is from, but through oppression they now live only in Hokkaido.   In an article I googled by Simon Cottorill he writes:   Most indigenous groups have experienced distressing cruelty, and narrative accounts of their struggles tend to be elegiac in tone. Japan's Ainu people have undergone suppression of their culture and livelihood, and subsequent denial of their existence. However, the Ainu's recent history is marked by considerable achievements, such as international recognition and the Japanese government's 2008 declaration recognizing their indigenous status. In spite of and often in reaction to continuing obstacles, the Ainu have successfully used the international forum to advance towards their domestic goals. Simultaneously, they have often reshaped their culture to successfully engage with contemporary demands.

I had seen a film and learned they are everywhere in Japan, though not noticed.  They resist extinction and there is an Identity Movement all over Japan to bring back some of their cultural ways and I had heard they are finally allowed to help the wild salmon stock but I cannot find anything that talks about it.   The Japanese government who had invested everything into hatchery fish.  Japan operates the most extensive hatchery operation in the world, according to an Evaluation of the Effects of Conservation and Fishery Enhancement Hatcheries on Wild Salmon Populations.  Studies show that supporting hatcheries only does not solve the problem.

Meanwhile, look what happens to the wild salmon from testimonies submitted to the 2011 UN DRIP by the Ainu:

The city government of Monbetsu, a municipality in Hokkaido Prefecture (traditional Ainu territory), authorized a plan to build an Industrial Waste Dumping Site near the Monbetsu river on February 26, 2010. The Monbetsu River is one of the most important places for the co-existence between the Ainu culture and the natural environment, and an important site for autumnal salmon spawning in the Monbetsu area. A traditional ceremony (Kamui Cep Nomi) to thank the deities for providing the Ainu with lots of salmons was revived in 2002, and the ceremony is conducted every autumn by the local Ainu community.

Prior to the authorization, the local Ainu community in Monbetsu, working in collaboration with local Japanese groups supporting environmental conservation, demanded that the city government respect the UNDRIP including land, cultural and environmental rights and the principle of "Free, Prior and Informed Consent" (FPIC) and review the plan from the indigenous peoples’ perspective. However, the city government, unfortunately, has not given any consideration to the Ainu rights and has now authorized this project. As a result, the construction work has been already started, and the local Ainu people have sent application to the Prefectural Pollution Examination Commission (PPEC) to look into the matter.

In 2010, 56 indigenous organizations and 25 supporting NGO and NPOs joined together to gather signatures to a petition calling on Hokkaido prefecture to halt construction plans.

That's the spirit!

If Grandpa were mixed heritage Ainu, even from way back, and if he yearned to claim it, I would be honored to be a throw back granddaughter.  But if not, my nature loving Ojichan, I carry you with me into the Winnemem World because there, I do not have to leave my precious elders and upbringing at the door like one does in the larger society. 

Much to my surprise, while channel surfing after writing this, Anthony Bordain is traveling in Hokkaido.  And strangely enough, considering what I've been writing, he is visiting the Ainu cultural center and museum.  Later he visits the home of his host.  He sits down to a stew of Ainu traditional vegetables which I know includes wild onion.  This soup had C(h)ep, or salmon.  This is their most important food and called "fish of the spirits."  They are prevented from fishing.  I don't understand where or how they get the fish the fish drying outside their homes strung under the eaves of their roofs.  Perhaps it's meant they can't fish out of season anymore.  The man talked about how first they wash the gutted fish in salt water, then dry it outside -- two months, then smoke it and dry for another 2 months.  That's not not the only way the cook salmon but that is how they preserve the salmon.  Bordain liked it.  They talked openly about the oppression.  From the 1860's -- what a time that was all around the world -- land was taken, and forced assimilation.  That's period Japan had sent their experts to the US to learn how to be an empire.   And that's when they took that wrong road which pretty much affected their culture too.   Their policy toward the Ainu seem just as oppressive as the Americans.  Bordain is registering shock.  He doesn't know his own country's policies toward indigenous peoples.    

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"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

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. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.