A group of indigenous Ainu people from Japan studied education initiatives for Māori during a visit to Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi: indigenous-university in Whakatāne.
The visit on February 19 was part of a five-week exchange programme for Ainu to learn from Māori endeavours for cultural survival.
Awanuiārangi CEO and Vice-Chancellor Distinguished Professor Hingangaroa Smith said the Ainu were particularly interested in Māori political strategies and cultural revitalisation initiatives that could be adapted for their own development.
“They came to Whakatāne to look at issues around representation of Māori, language and cultural revitalisation, educational enhancement and strategies. The Ainu people of Japan share many of the experiences of other indigenous peoples in respect of maintaining their language, knowledge and culture in the face of living in a colonised context. Their hope in coming to New Zealand is to observe successful strategies that can positively transform their lives and support their cultural existence,” Distinguished Professor Smith said.
In a Japanese population of 130 million, the Ainu number around 150,000, with the majority living in the northern island of Hokkaido. Their efforts to revitalise their culture, language, and rights caught the eye of Māori MP Te Ururoa Flavell during a visit to Ainumosir and Tokyo in January 2012. He suggested a delegation from the Ainu should visit Aotearoa to meet community and tribal leaders, and learn about successful Māori initiatives.
The exchange has included visiting each of New Zealand’s three wānanga, iwi organisations, community initiatives, Parliament, Māori TV, and historic sites such as Waitangi on Waitangi Day, Parihaka and Ratana Pā. It ends with a visit to Te Matatini Māori Performing Arts festival in Rotorua. In Whakatāne, the group toured the new Awanuiārangi campus before hearing a presentation about wānanga developments in New Zealand, and educational initiatives to enhance learning success for Māori. Before leaving Whakatāne, the group took in some of the area’s sights.
Distinguished Professor Smith said the 17 members of the delegation came from range of backgrounds, and included students, community leaders and officials. “Indigenous exchanges are always a two-way process. It’s not just about sharing what we know – it’s also important to keep our ears open and to learn from others. In this respect, this exchange was very successful.”