Language revitalisation a global issue for indigenous people

The story of a language almost lost by the indigenous people of Japan is eerily similar to the one experienced by New Zealand’s tangata whenua.

But Kenji Sekine​, of the Ainu people of Japan, said the way Maori had reclaimed their reo provided him with inspiration in his efforts to achieve the same result in his homeland.

Sekine was the keynote speaker at this year’s Poukorero conference in New Plymouth on Wednesday night, where he outlined how a campaign of forced assimilation by the Japanese government in the 19th century almost wiped out the Ainu culture and language.

Laws prohibiting traditional fishing practices enacted in the 1860s and a general denigration of Ainu people, who were labelled “savages” meant generations of Japan’s indigenous population saw little value in their own culture. The Ainu population is about 25,000, which is only 0.02 percent of the entire Japanese population.

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