Indigenous Politics in Asia: How China and Japan are Part of a Global Dynamics?


In 1995, at a UN meeting on indigenous rights, China and Japan each declared that there were no indigenous people in Asia because indigeneity was a product of European colonialism. Yet, their statements belied China’s past and Japan’s future. In the past, China had been a consistent and ardent supporter of global indigenous rights, inviting more indigenous groups than any other country. Thirteen years in the future, the Japanese government reversed its position and declared that its Ainu citizens were indigenous peoples. This talk explores the hidden history of China’s role in mobilizing indigenous groups throughout the Asia Pacific. We focus on how China’s repeated invitations to Ainu led them to transform their own identity, as well as radically challenge Japanese society itself. China was perhaps the Ainu’s most important catalyst for becoming important players in global indigenous dynamics.


Michael Hathaway is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. His first book, Environmental Winds: Making the Global in Southwest China (California, 2013), explores the intersections between China’s emergence on the stage of global conservation and the rise of questions of indigeneity within China itself.

Scott Harrison is Program Manager at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a not-for-profit organization focused on Canada-Asia relations. His research examines global Indigenous peoples and Cold War history, Canada-Asia business and policy issues, and building Asia-related competencies for Canadians. He obtained a PhD in History from the University of Waterloo.