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Researchers from four continents gather in Okinawa Island for the first time towards decolonizing futures

Researchers from four continents gather in Okinawa Island for the first time towards decolonizing futures

Carmen Grau, 14 November 2023

Researchers from Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean participated in the International Seminar “Towards Decolonizing Futures: Languages, Culture, Art and Nature under and against Settler Colonialism” held at Meio University in Nago City, located in the northern part of Okinawa Island.

From 11th to 12th November 2023, CEMiPoS brought young scholars such as Carles Jornet, Carmen Grau and Stefania Castelblanco, whose disciplines range from art to anthropology and sociology, to facilitate discussions about various perspectives at the seminar. Consequently, the archipelago, for the first time, became a global and interdisciplinary research hub towards decolonizing futures.

CEMiPoS Director, Maruyama Hiroshi, co-hosted the event in alliance with Ishihara Masahide, Executive Vice-President of Education at the University of the Ryukyus; and Hammine Madoka, associate professor in the Department of International Culture at Meio University, both local institutions on Okinawa Island. "It is the first time we have welcomed guests from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and China together in the Ryukyu Islands." "We hope to continue
this good work," affirmed Ishihara, an expert in social linguistics.

At the opening speech, Tomoko Arakaki, a professor at Okinawa Christian University, welcomed everyone to "Okinawa, a place that has endured too much pressure to conform." Therefore, the presentations exposed local colonial issues: indigenous movements in and from the Ryukyus, decolonization initiatives in the islands, or indigenous language revitalization.

Following presentations showed a wide and interdisciplinary range of topics from around the world, connecting languages, art, culture and nature to fight against settler colonialism: contested politics of heritage on Rapa Nui from Easter Island; Sami activism and art in their resistance against settler colonialism; the role of indigenous peoples within the Caribbean; Ainu descriptions in western women's writings; use of native languages as an act of resistance; works on identity and narratives; and a study of the Iku material culture in European collections, among others.

"This seminar is interdisciplinary. That is why people with diverse backgrounds gathered and made it fruitful. But it is not enough. We should cross the borders and increase collaborations with local activists, artists, etc. I will further fight against the authorities in solidarity with minoritised/marginalised people," stressed the CEMiPoS Director in his closing speech.

Furthermore, the group of international scholars conducted fieldwork at several sites on the island, with the purpose of recording local voices and landscapes. Under the guidance of Sakai Risako, a PhD candidate at Oregon State University, they travelled to Henoko, the coastal area of Nago City, to see the US runway under construction amid protests where they met several activists against the new base, a controversial project from the Japanese government.

They also visited the Sakima Art Museum, situated on ancestral territories occupied by the U.S. Futenma Air Base, to learn about the special exhibition of the "Illustrations on the Battle of Okinawa" through the artistic expression of Iri Maruki (1901-1995) and Toshi Maruki (1912-2000). Lastly, they met with Ginowan Churamizu Association members, who are calling on the Japanese and US governments to take action on the PFOS contamination in the island's water.