On Monday, June 27, 2022, CEMiPoS researcher Olivia Doyle attended the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Consultation for East Asia on Indigenous Peoples and the right to freedom or religion of belief. This consultation is one of many to which the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has invited regional experts on indigenous rights to religious expression. The consultations will inform the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming report to the UNGA on “obstacles that Indigenous peoples face to enjoying and exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief”.
At this meeting, five guests were invited to speak about religious freedoms for Indigenous Peoples across East Asia. Aurore Dumont, a Marie Skłodowska–Curie Actions Individual Fellow at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités (GSRL), spoke about shamanism practiced by Indigenous Peoples in Inner Mongolia. Anna Maria Charlotta Lundberg, Associate Professor at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo, pointed out that a right to speak and preserve Indigenous languages must be guaranteed before an Indigenous group can be considered to have full rights to religious freedom. Tsereng Shakya, the Canada Research Chair in Religion and Contemporary Society in Asia at the University of British Columbia, explained that Tibetan peoples must be guaranteed religious freedom in order to live as Indigenous Peoples, because Tibetan Buddhism is so deeply ingrained in indigenous identity there. Yong Zhou, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights in collaboration with Professor Lundberg, outlined the legal barriers and potential for implementing Indigenous human rights in China. Finally, CEMiPoS researcher Olivia Doyle introduced the relationships between Ainu spirituality and territorial rights.
Ms. Doyle introduced some of the key concerns among Ainu communities regarding spiritual belief and practice. She summarized the national Ainu policies implemented since 1997 which affirm Ainu rights to ethnic pride, cultural reclamation, and Indigenous status, pointing out that these policies do not provision the land use rights which are integral to many Ainu rituals. Though Japan has signed onto the UNDRIP and the ICCPR, and has recognized the Ainu as an Indigenous People, the Diet and the municipal government of Hokkaido have yet to ensure sufficient Ainu rights to territory.
Ainu spirituality - like many aspects of Ainu identity - is exercised in conversation with Ainu Mosir, or the ancestral Ainu territory. As such, when Ainu rights to utilize parts of the Mosir for ritual practice are not guaranteed, Ainu spiritual practitioners can become subject to state violence. This was the experience of Ekashi Hatakeyama who, in 2019, was harassed by Hokkaido Prefectural police for catching salmon in the Mopetsu River in preparation for kamuicepnomi. He caught the fish without applying for the permit required by Article 52 of the Hokkaido Regulations in the Freshwater Fishing Industry, as a protest against the law’s restriction upon Ainu interactions with ancestral waterways. As a result, he faced criminal charges which were lifted only after he suffered a stroke in 2020. It is imperative that international institutions like the UN recognize that territorial rights are prerequisite to indigenous rights to freedom of belief. Otherwise, Indigenous Peoples will continue to face the violence made possible by incomplete indigenous rights protections.
The UN Special Rapporteur will continue to gather opinions and expertise from Indigenous Peoples and allies in preparation for the report, which is to be presented at the UNGA in October 2022.