This program, envisioned by Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell to empower Ainu people, is being created through the cooperation of AMO (an organization for the Advancement of Maori Opportunities) and several Maori communities. We have only been able to come this far due to the goodwill, passion, friendship, and spirit of solidarity the Maori people have demonstrated to the Ainu people from the past into the present.
In order to realize this program, we have formed the Aotearoa/Ainumosir Exchange Program Executive Committee. This is not a gathering of representatives from preexisting organizations, but rather is composed of a group of individuals dedicated to ensuring that the program will be carried out smoothly from now and into the future.
Much different from the situation that the Ainu people find themselves in Japan with the government just starting to draft proposals for Ainu policies, in New Zealand, the Maori have tirelessly worked to advance the revitalization of their rights as indigenous people since the 1970s. Furthermore, the Maori people are contributing significantly to the development of New Zealand society in all of fields, whether economic, social, cultural, or political. The Maori language is an official language along with English.
It is certain that Ainu participants in this program will gain enormous encouragement from their Maori counterparts who are making great strides in society while maintaining their culture and values as indigenous people. Whether you are an Ainu person who has already embarked on the long road to overcoming the difficulties we face, or just taking your first steps on that road, or even just embarking on the journey to find your identity as an Ainu person- if you are Ainu, you will definitely gain something special from participating in this program.
Above all, we hope this will become an opportunity for young Ainu people in search of their Ainu identity to take their first steps on the Ainu path. Due to anxiety about deeply rooted discrimination which pervades society, or the inability for people to discover meaning in being Ainu, there are still many people who have yet to assert their Ainu identity. According to a Hokkaido Prefecture survey there are about 24000 Ainu people, however in reality there are several times more Ainu people than that figure leads us to believe. Out of the 5,000 to 10,000 Ainu people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone, only around 100 of them are active as Ainu.
Participants in this program will become even more aware of the significance of being Ainu, and if they are able to stand firmly in their decision to travel on the Ainu path, they will be able to make important strides for a new future for the Ainu people. At the same time, we believe it will create an opportunity for Japanese society to become more a fair society- one that respects a diversity of values.
We do not intend to have this program available only for this year, but rather, we hope to make this a mutually-beneficial exchange that lasts long in the future, where we not only send Ainu to New Zealand, but also have Maori people visit us where we live, further solidifying the bonds between the Ainu and Maori people.