MEET THE TEAM
DR. KANAKO UZAWA - FOUNDER
Dr. Kanako Uzawa is an Ainu scholar, advocate, and artist. She is a multi-lingual and multi-faceted cultural scholar who speaks Japanese, English, Norwegian, and limited Ainu and has lived in six different countries. She spent her childhood and youth in the Ainu community of Nibutani, Hokkaidō, and in Tokyo. She grew up in both Ainu and Japanese cultures and states that “the Ainu people and culture are part of my everyday life just like Japanese people and culture”. She describes her Ainu people as the kindest and warmest people, with a rich culture and a lot of inspiration. She is a member of the Association of Rera in Tokyo, where she learned Ainu songs and dances from elders and became a cultural performer and international advocate for the Ainu community.
During her youth, she encountered negative representations and discrimination towards the Ainu and discovered a stark contrast between the general public view and her people. She began to wonder what does it mean to be Ainu in the twenty-first century? This gave her motivation to explore a way to express the contemporary livelihood of the Ainu.
She obtained her master in Indigenous Studies and doctorate degree in Community Planning and Cultural Understanding from the UiT Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø in 2020. She’s held an internship in the Project to Promote ILO Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (PRO 169) at the International Labour Organisation, Geneva Switzerland. She is currently an affiliated researcher at the Research Faculty of Media and Communication at Hokkaido University and contributes to collaborative research and Ainu performing art on the multifaceted articulations of Indigenous knowledge. She also engages with the ArCSII (Arctic Challenge for Sustainability) as a research collaborator. She is an editorial board member of AlterNative: an International Journal of Indigenous Peoples in New Zealand, Aotearoa.
SABRA HARRIS - CONTRIBUTOR
Sabra Harris is PhD student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. An anthropologist and ethnographer, she is in the East Asian Culture Studies program, researching Indigeneity and contemporary Ainu identities. She received her masters in folklore from the University of Oregon in 2016, writing on digital storytelling and editing in anime music videos.
She was first introduced to Ainu during her undergrad in Asian Studies at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. When she first began to study the myth of homogeneity in Japan, she came across Oki Dub Ainu Band, which not only challenged her perception of contemporary Japan but of contemporary Indigenous identity as well. The AinuToday platform is important because it challenges stereotypes that relegate Indigenous people to an ossified past. AinuToday collects and organizes materials that show how Ainu cultures are not relics, that they do not only exist in museums and history. They celebrate their identities in innovative ways and continue to affect the present.
Sabra first communicated with Dr. Uzawa through Sabra’s academic mentor at UCSB, ann-elise lewallen, who is also a friend and colleague of Dr. Uzawa. They spoke more and became better acquainted after Sabra attended Dr. Uzawa’s lecture on Ainu Resilience, which was hosted by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Japanese Research in 2021.
DR. SCOTT HARRISON - CONTRIBUTOR
Dr. Scott Harrison (Ph.D., History) is Senior Program Manager, Engaging Asia at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a not-for-profit organization focused on Canada-Asia relations. His research examines global indigeneity and indigenism with a focus on the Asia Pacific, Canada-Asia business, policy and strategies; paradiplomacy; building Asia-related competencies for Canadians; Japan history, diplomacy and politics; and Asia Cold War history. He is (slowly) working on a book project on Indigenous peoples and the Cold War, and two co-authored journal articles related to Ainu delegations to China during the 1970s and 1980s. Publications include, “Canadian Provinces and Foreign Policy in Asia,” International Journal (with C.L. Labrecque) (2018); “The Cold War, the San Francisco System and Indigenous Peoples,” in The San Francisco System and Its Legacies, (2015); and “The Indigenous Ainu of Japan at the Time of the Åland Settlement,” in Northern Territories, Asia-Pacific Regional Conflicts and the Aland Experience (2009). He has also written over a dozen policy pieces for APF Canada, many of which look at Indigenous engagement and business between Canada and the Asia Pacific.
Dr. Kanako Uzawa’s AinuToday platform is a critical and timely Ainu-led initiative. Non-Ainu scholars and pundits have dominated much of the past and current Ainu-related literature and discussions in English and Japanese. But this is changing. AinuToday is one such example of this. Dr. Uzawa’s efforts to spearhead AinuToday will make it a key platform for highlighting Ainu scholarly and artistic works. AinuToday also offers significant potential for partnering with Ainu on initiatives that are not merely academic muses but that will have a tangible impact on issues that matter to Ainu. As far as I know, this is likely one of the first Ainu-led initiative outside of Japan, besides museum exhibits, that aims to highlight the work of Ainu scholars and artisans for an international audience.
While I have known of Dr. Uzawa and her work for many years, it wasn’t until Dr. Mark Watson formally introduced us that we began to discuss shared interests and ideas. I am looking forward to working with Dr. Uzawa and the growing AinuToday team towards promoting a future full of understanding, respect, inclusivity and life-long partnerships.
MICHAEL J. IOANNIDES - CONTRIBUTOR
Michael J. Ioannides (MA, Oregon State University; MA, UC Santa Barbara) is a 3rd year PhD student in the department of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been studying contemporary political movements among the Ainu people for over a decade. His bachelor’s honor thesis at the University of Chicago (2010) discussed contemporary Ainu identity in relation to cultural competency and authenticity, while his master’s thesis at Oregon State University (2017) examined and critiqued the Saru River Development Project (including the Nibutani Dam and Biratori Dam) and its impacts on Ainu residents. For his PhD dissertation project, Michael hopes to conduct ethnographic fieldwork in Ainu Mosir to work and live alongside Ainu environmental restorationists, in the hopes of learning how their work might present a challenge to the Japanese government’s “construction state” paradigm of regional development as well as ongoing settler colonial dispossession in Ainu Mosir. He grounds his ethnographic engagement in an ethic of responsibility and relationality that derives from his commitment to Indigenous methodologies as a means of collaboratively producing non-extractive and non-exploitative scholarship that is accountable to community needs and desires.
Having been first exposed to Dr. Uzawa’s publications through his classes with professor ann-elise lewallen—who is Michael’s dissertation co-chair—Michael first reached out to Dr. Uzawa to introduce himself after seeing her presentation at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Japanese Research in March 2021. Michael was thrilled when asked to contribute to AinuToday. This exciting and important project provides a portal for English-language readers into the issues that matter most to contemporary Ainu people. It also seeks to elevate and amplify the voices of Ainu people themselves, so that English-language readers can be exposed to perspectives that have too often been marginalized or ignored in the past. Michael wishes such a resource had been available ten years ago, when he was first getting started learning about the Ainu people’s struggle for justice. He is honored to contribute to such an important project.
DR. MAKIKO KIMURA - CONTRIBUTOR
Dr. Makiko Kimura became interested in international indigenous peoples’ movements through her research on the Naga independence movement in the border region between northeastern India and Myanmar, and joined the Shimin _Gaikou Centre (Citizens’ Diplomatic Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) in 1999.
Since then, she has supported Ainu and Ryukyuan/Okinawan participation in the United Nations and the submission of documentation to international human rights treaty bodies. She has also been active in connecting Ainu and Ryukyuan/Okinawan peoples with the Asian Indigenous Peoples’ Federation (AIPP), a network of indigenous peoples in Asia. She is currently vice-president of the Simin Gaikou Centre.
Along with Kanako Uzawa, she participated in the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues in 2006 and 2007, collaborating on a joint document which led to their ongoing relationship.
Trained as sociologist, her primary specialization is in ethnic issues in northeastern India, including work for indigenous rights work and other advocacy movements, as well as immigration, Muslim exclusion, and citizenship issues. She currently teaches international sociology and indigenous studies in the College of Liberal Arts Department of International Cooperation at Tsuda University.
In 2021, when AinuToday was launched, she contributed to the section on Ainu rights and helped translate articles on the site into Japanese. While the 2020 launch of Upopoy, the National Ainu Museum and Park in Hokkaido, has drawn attention to Ainu culture and language, she is concerned with the lack of discussion in Japan about human rights, especially to land and resources, which are fundamental to any discussion on Ainu issues.
She is hopeful that AinuToday will serve as a forum to stimulate productive discussion about indigenous rights.