by Barbara Castrovillo Seasholtz
Yolanda Munhoz had always felt a pull towards working with indigenous
populations in her native Mexico, but when tragedy struck and she could
no longer walk to visit the native communities she had been helping, she
turned in another direction.
She travelled half-way around the world to connect indigenous Mexicans
struggles with those of the Ainu, a Japanese indigenous group.
Munhoz, a PhD candidate at El Colegio de Mexico who holds a masters
degree in Japanese studies, spent six months recently at the University
of Tokyo studying the Ainu people. On Jan. 30, she was invited by Concordias
Simone de Beauvoir Institute to share her findings on resistance and change
among Japanese Ainu women.
Munhoz had previously worked for the Mexican governments indigenous
radio broadcasting system, the Presidents Office for People with
Disabilities and the Mexican National Institute for Women.
Addressing the 25 students and professors who gathered in the Dragonroot
Centre on Mackay St., the champion of indigenous and disabled rights summarized
her presentation Representation versus Counter-representation: Resistance
Literature of Ainu Women with one glaring fact. The Ainu of
Japan are not recognized and they do not have written rights in
Japan, she said.
Located primarily in the north of the country, in the Hokkaido area, the
Ainu once possessed a rich culture but experienced a steady decline after
their land was annexed by the Japanese. Munhoz, showing slides of the
Ainu, drew parallels between their fate and that of many Mexican indigenous
populations. Impoverished by the dominating culture, the Ainu were
considered barbarians by the Japanese, similar to how the conquering
Spanish saw native Mexicans.
The Japanese then tried to civilize the Ainu by teaching
them the Japanese language and culture, she continued, and gradually
the Ainu found that identity more beneficial to their survival. Ainu traditions
suffered and the Ainu themselves began to move away from their native
land in the early 20th century. It was only decades later, through the
persistence of Ainu women in putting their oral literature to paper, that
Ainu culture was revived.
Munhoz said, The Ainu made the Japanese realize that they were not
homogeneous. She believes that this is important for the Japanese
because it creates a construction of plurality within society.
However, the Ainu still have much more ground to cover, since they continue
to struggle for even the most basic rights within a very conservative
society that hesitates to recognize them.
A discussion period followed, with students pointing out the relevance
of Munhozs findings in relation to First Nations groups in Canada.
Munhozs talk on January 30 was the first in a series of speakers
in Dr. Sima Aprahamians seminar on Women Organizing Resistance and
Change. The next seminar speaker will be Allison Griffith, leader of the
Craft Church, on Feb. 13.