A Mysterious Catholic Sister Who Studied the “Mysterious” Ainu People
――Did Sister Mary Inez Hilger Collect Blood Samples from her “Sky People”?――
In late November I began to work again on a manuscript I had left undone for a certain personal reason almost four years ago, and sent its Introduction to a handful of people. Its tentative title is “A Preliminary Study on the ‘Bloody’ Biocolonialism against the Ainu People -- Some Issues to Consider --.”
Within a day or two, an Ainu person contacted me, saying that s/he had her blood taken by a Catholic Sister from England for 500 yen or so when s/he was a middle school student*1. This reminded me of the Cambridge Expedition that collected blood samples from 187 Ainu people in the Hidaka region in 1964*2. But a Catholic Sister collecting Ainu blood? Why? Besides, American? I just couldn’t think of any research expedition from the United States in the mid-1960s.
The Ainu person told me that there was a picture of him/her-self taken then in a book published by a certain American institute, and that s/he had her blood taken “in a fine black car” during the Sister’s research. S/he vaguely remembers that the driver and a nurse were also in the car. S/he sent me the Sister’s name -- Inez Hilger -- that was in the book. I found her picture immediately on the web and sent it to him/her, which seemed to have confirmed his/her memories of the Sister’s face and impressive gray habit.
S/he asked me to write to the Institute that published the book, but I was reluctant to move without confirming some basic facts first. Then my research on Sister Mary Inez Hilger started. I have decided to post my preliminary report here and seek information and assistance from my readers. The above-mentioned writing I resumed in November has been stopped ever since!
The Sister was Mary Inez Hilger, “a scholar of international reputation*3,” who stayed in Hokkaido for eight months from June 1965 to February 1966, conducting her anthropological research in Nibutani, Asahikawa, Mukawa, Shiraoi, Shizunai, and so on. She published an article, ”Japan’s ‘Sky People,’ the Vanishing Ainu” in the February 1967 issue of National Geographic. She was 73-74 years old then*4 and passed away ten years later, on May 18, 1977.
According to the obituary by American Anthropologist*5 and the article of the CSB Archives cited above, Hilger’s anthropological career started late, after 25 years of teaching at primary, middle-school, and college levels. After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1923, with a BA in history, she finished her Master’s and Doctoral degrees at the Catholic University of America, respectively, in 1925 and in 1939. Inspired by Margaret Mead at Catholic University, Hilger became interested in the children’s life in various cultures. Her Ph. D. dissertation was on Chippewa families in Minnesota.
Hilger’s professional interest was in indigenous peoples in the United States and Chile. Beginning with the Chippewa, her publications cover many indigenous peoples, including Arapaho, Cheyenne, Sioux, Hopi, Menomini, Crow, and so on, with whom she conducted her field studies on the cultures “in crisis.” Her expanded interest led her to southern Chile to study the Araucanians in 1946.
Hilger came to Japan in 1962 and taught anthropology at the University of Tokyo and other universities for a year, while she seems to have carried out her preliminary study of Ainu culture. She contributed an article to a Japanese newspaper in 1963*6, and published another in the American Benedictine Academy’s journal in 1964*7.
Hilger’s publications concerning the Ainu people, published after her 1965-1966 research, include, in addition to the above-mentioned National Geographic article, ”Mysterious ‘Sky People’: Japan's Dwindling Ainu” (pp. 92-113) in National Geographic Society’s Vanishing Peoples of the Earth (1968); ”The Ainu of Japan” (reprinted from National Geographic Society Research Reports, 1964 Projects, pp. 91-103, 1969); a half-page review of “Canoes of the Ainu,” an educational film produced by American Educational Films and the Hokkaido Educational Commission in 1968 and released in 1969, in American Anthropologist, 72 (1979), p. 1576; and her last book, Together with the Ainu, a Vanishing People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). “The Ainu of Japan,” a report submitted to her sponsor, the National Geographic Society, was based on the preceding two articles.
It is tempting to write a critique of these publications, but that is not the purpose here. It may suffice to point out that the words used in each of her works, such as “vanishing,” “dwindling,” etc., reflect the ideology of then prevalent salvage ethnography and anthropology*8.
We have not found out its reason and purpose yet, but the 1967 National Geographic article was translated by Seiichirou Nakamura and published by a cultural study group in Tomakomai. This booklet seems to be the only one of Hilger’s writings that is available in Japanese.
As I wrote above, the Ainu person sent me a photo, as well as her experience with the Sister. S/he wishes to know who took the picture for what purpose, where the original print and its negative are now, and if there are any other pictures of her/him-self and her/his family. And one more thing, s/he wishes to know why her/his blood was taken and what has since happened to it. Both issues are important, but it would be a considerably sensational and very sensitive issue if a Catholic Sister collected the blood of an Ainu child by herself. S/he asked me if I could write letters of inquiry to the organizations concerned.
I gathered the background information of various kinds, including what is presented above, with the help of a few old acquaintances without letting them know about the Ainu person. Their help enabled me to act quickly.
The Ainu person and I chose to approach the two issues separately so as not to invite suspicions from the parties concerned. According to Hilger, she was accompanied by two photographers, Gorou Tsuda of Nippon Housou Kyoukai (NHK, or Japan Broadcasting Corporation) (NHK) and Eiji Miyazawa of Black Star, Inc.. The photo we are looking for might be kept somewhere in Japan, but we have not been able to obtain any information about these two photographers. So we agreed to ask the two organizations that are most likely to have the photo. They have been doing the search, and we have been waiting.
The problem is about the blood taking. There seems to be no mention of that anywhere in her publications. After all, while other anthropological researchers collected blood samples collectively from Ainu people in such public places as elementary schools and community halls where others can see, s/he had her blood taken in a private car. That means that we have no witnesses. We may infer from that method as well as her social position that Hilger must not have left any record of her deed in the documents to be made public. I asked an archivist of the Archives of the Catholic University of America if there are any private papers, such as diaries and/or journals, but his answer was negative, unfortunately.
Well, if there is no evidence of taking blood in Hilger’s writings, we have no other choice but to gather testimonies. Were there not any other Ainu whose bloods were taken in a similar manner?
In the Appendix A of Hilger’s Together with the Ainu, there is a list of “Ainu Who Assisted Us in the Study” in which fifty-seven Ainu (twenty-eight men and twenty-nine women) are listed*9. The Ainu person knows of all the people from the area which s/he comes from, and about one-third of those fifty-seven, as well. Unfortunately, however, as I expected when I obtained the list, thre are few survivors today. Since the research was done in 1965-1966, those older than 42 to 43 years of age at the time are now over 100 years old. Out of those fifty-seven, there are only eight people who were younger than 42-43 years old. Mr. Shigeru Kayano, who already passed away, was 40 years old then. There are two people whose ages were unknown. There are four wives whose names are not given, but their husbands were all in their late fifties to sixties. Of the eight people under 100 years old today, s/he knows of only three, but all the three have been dead. The remaining are five -- a 15-year-old boy*10, a 25-year-old woman, a 30-year-old man, and two 35-year-old men.
At this stage of our research, we noticed an interesting fact. Although Hilger focused on the people who practiced their “dying” culture, in order to study the “vanishing” people and culture, it is hard to believe that the researcher who had a special interest in indigenous children did not attempt to contact and study Ainu children during her eight months’ stay. As a matter of fact, she did have a contact with the Ainu person concerned. Besides, toward the end of the NG article, she frequently refers to Ainu children with some photos, for example, two children in the picture of the three-generation family of Setsu Mikami in Mukawa (pp. 284-285), Shigeru Kayano’s thirteen-year-old son (p. 290), Taro Sasaki’s two-year-old child (p. 293), another two-year-old child (p. 295), and a fifth-grade girl in Nibutani (p. 295). To the last picture of the fifth-grader, she*11
Returning to the list of Ainu people in Hilger’s book, its heading, as already mentioned, is “Ainu Who Assisted Us in the Study.” Why are there not any names of children but the only 15-year-old boy? Is it because there were too many children to list up” Or is it because she and her staff people did not care about recording their names? Or because their contributions were not considered as significant as to be acknowledged*12, the Smithonian Institute of which she was a research associate. She was supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation in Chile*13. Considering the international circumstances in which the bloods of “vanishing” indigenous peoples were being sought throughout the world, including the International Biological Progam (IBP) that had started in 1964 and the Cambridge Expedition that collected blood samples from 187 Ainu people in Hidaka, Hokkaido also in 1964, we are tempted to make such an inference.
Hilger was accompanied by two Japanese women as assistants and interpreters: Chiye Sano, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Nanzan University and Midori Yamaha who had recently earned her M.A. in sociology from Loyola University. We haven’t got any information about the former, and the latter, unfortunately, has already passed away.
To be honest, I was surprised when I first heard from the Ainu person concerned about his/her experience. Little had I thought that s/he would let it happen today. But s/he was very young and vulnerable. Medical and anthropological researchers have “collected” human tissues as “samples” from various indigenous peoples in vulnerable situations over a century. Most of those adult Ainu who are listed as assistants in Hilger’s book probably did not have their blood taken. The Ainu person concerned wishes to know the truth. What was Hilger’s purpose of taking her blood? What has happened to her blood? Was it used as a material for any lab research and disposed of? For what kind of research? Or has it been stored in the freezer of a certain lab anywhere, waiting for a secondary or even tertiary use? Or is it considered usekess and waiting to be discarded now that its possessor no longer exists in this world, as was the case with the huge collections in the U.S. and Australia?
The children at the time of Hilger’s research now lives in various regions, and it is extremely difficult for him/her to gather testimonies by him/her-self. S/he, however, wishes to establish the fact that the Sister collected bloods from Ainu children (and perhaps adults, too) and move on to the next step/stage.
I encountered an interesting piece of information in the early stage of this research. A blog post here shows a picture of the front cover of the Japanese translation of Hilger’s “Japan’s ‘Sky People,’ the Vanishing Ainu.” According to the last two paragraphs, Dr. George Hunt Williamson, known as the pioneer researcher of UFOs, came to Japan on August 16, 1961 and flew to Hokkaido on the 19th. After meeting with Professor Sakuzaemon Kodama, who collected the bones and funerary objects of about a thousand dead Ainu from their graveyards, Williamson visited the Ainu residential area in Asahikawa on the 20th, Fugoppe Cave and the Ainu kotan in Biratori on the 21st. In Biratori, he learned about the oral mythology of the Okikurmi kamuy from a Saru Ainu elder. The YouTube video linked above says that Williamson visited Japan for the promotion of the Japanese translation of his book, Other Tongues Other Flesh from August 16 to September 25, 1961 at the invitation of Yuusuke Matsumura, the organizer of the Cosmic Brotherhood Association (CBA)*14, she briefly introduces various hypotheses as to the origin of the Ainu people, and then describes their conversation in the section of “Flying Saucers No Puzzle to Guest.”
“The end of the Ainu is at hand” -- Hilger quoted Kuwada as if to emphasize the state of “vanishing” here again. Kuwada, however, went on to say that he could tell her of “their beginning.” He then declared: “They came from the skies .... Their ancestors were space people --- the same who still live in the clouds and send those flying saucers to earth.” In connection with this, then, referring to the monument of an Ainu creation mythology on a hill in Biratori, Hilger brings out her episode of learning during her field research “that many an Ainu elder believes in this legend of the Ainu’s origin in space.” This is the origin of Hilger’s calling the Ainu “Sky People.” But the readers cannot know about it unti they come to this section toward the end of the article.*15.
Getting back to Williamson, moreover, the YouTube video referred to above discusses that he went through three stages of life and that in July 1951, a year before the second stage began, he moved to the Chippewa tribe in Minnesota at the age of 24 and lived with a family there till May 1952. He wrote a memoire entitled “Chippewa Diary.” I do not know if there is any reference to Hilger in it, but the Chippewa tribe might be a key that links the two.
Did the Ainu person have his/her blood taken as a sample of the descendants of “ancient astronauts” or space people? That is a joke s/he cannot laugh about and that we’d better not enter into. The Ainu were an “enigma” to Hilger, but she is really an enigma to them (and to us, too) today.
The second stage of Williamson’s life ended after his visit to Japan. He changed his name in 1962 and lived till he died of a heart attack on January 25, 1986. “The exact date of his death,” the author of the book on Williamson’s life says, “was still unknown just a few months ago” (in 2012?), and his cremated ashes are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, “literally under the windows of the Pentagon.” Thus, this too is a mystery!
*1:I am keeping his/her personal information -- name, sex, age, living place, etc. -- concealed or blurred in order to avoid identificaiton of the person. I asked the person concerned to check the Japanese version of this post, and obtained his/her consent to making it public here.
*2:Cf. 「1964年のケンブリッジ調査隊によるアイヌ血液採取と東大研究者による1970年の公刊論文のためのアイヌ血液採取」（April 28, 2018）
*3:"SISTER M. INEZ HILGER, O.S.B. 1891-1977," American Anthropologist, Vol. 80 (1978), p. 650.
*4:She had her birthday on October 16 during her stay.
*5:Ibid., p. 650-653.
*7:“Culture Changes in Japan,” American Benedictine Review 15:4.
*8:For a critique of Hilger’s Together with the Ainu, see Fred C. C. Peng’s review in American Anthropologist, Vol. 74 (1972), pp. 1434-1439. Peng points out Hilger’s two interrelated methodological problems that led to the weaknesses of her work. First, Hilger, upon arrival in Japan, went to the Imperial Household Agency of the Japanese government for help. Second, she seems to have uncritically accepted “everything her informants told her.” Here I wish to pay a particular attention to the first pitfall she fell into, that is, she “worked from the top down to ‘reach’ the Ainu.” The notifications were sent from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo to the Hokkaido Governor’s office in Sapporo, whence to the local mayor’s offices, and then to the Ainu in each locality. This flow of notifications may well have been effective in obtaining obedient cooperation from the Ainu she studied. It also worked against Hilger who, Peng pointed out, “felt obligated not to say anything that might in her judgment offend the Japanese government.” As a result, Hilger “lost objectivity and a sense of balance in the analysis of her data (or even in the elicitation of her data).” (Underlined by the present author.) In Hilger’s discussion of discrimination, we find those empty words we often hear from bureaucrats and “intellectuals” today, as if they had consulted her book.
*10:Later, the person found that this boy had already passed away.
*11:Or it is possible that the captions to the photos in the article were written by her staff photographer or the editor of National Geographic. For example, the caption to the picture entitled “So big!” begins with “”Distinguished ethnologist Sister Mary Inez Hilger,” which seems awkward to me. (p. 273))) adds a caption that starts with “Bright face to the future.” The next sentence, however, goes: “Unlike most children of this vanishing people, she has learned from her family to feel special pride in her Ainu heritage.” Again, not only is this girl introduced as an exception of this people with the adjective of “vanishing,” but also the photo depicts her practicing “Japanese calligraphy.” The mid-1960s were when the pressures of various kinds from the Government’s assimilation policy were exerted upon the Ainu people. “Reticence” of the parents’ generation in those days, Hilger writes, “hampered me a little in certain areas of my child study,” but she was able to learn much about traditional Ainu child rearing from the generation of grandparents. Contrasting the three generations under such circumstances, she declares that “[t]he new generation are not really Ainu children at all.”((pp. 292-293.
*12:One of the pictures, just suitable for Hilger who seems to have wished to depict the differences among the three generations, shows a supper scene of an Ainu family near Mukawa. To this picture, Hilger added that “[t]his family’s teen-agers left the room rather than be associated with the study of the Ainu.” (pp. 284-285.)))? Whatever the reason(s), I was afraid that the person concerned might be identified if we mentioned this list because I had expected to find his/he name there. But his/her name is not there in spite of the possibility that she might have contributed to their study with her blood. We see his/her mother’s name there. Then, would it mean that there were other children of his/her generation and of younger age who went through the same or similar experiences as his/hers? If that’s the case, can’t we obtain testimonies from those then children, if no longer from their parents? There is another possibility. Indeed, Hilger may not have needed much assistance from children in her cultural study. It might be that she collected blood from the person concerned -- and possibly from his/her mother -- at the request of other researcher(s) and/or research institution(s). They could be Japanese researcher(s), the National Geographic Society that made Hilger’s “long-time dream come true” with a grant((Ibid., p. 268
*13:American Anthropologist, op. cit. (1978), p. 650
*14:Reportedly, he built the now desertedHayopira (or Hayokpira) Natural Park in Biratori in 1964 with 3.5 million yen in the name of the Okikurmi project, i.e., to contact UFOs, and held a lavish ceremony with a large number of guests including foreign diplomats. I had a hunch that Hilger’s idea of “Sky People” might have something to do with Williamson and UFOs. Actually, Hilger wrote about her first encounter with the “Sky People” in the 1967 National Geographic article, the first output from her Hokkaido research. While being back in Tomakomai for a few days during her research, Hilger received a phone call from a Japanese man named Tsutomu Kuwada. He told Hilger that he knew “where the Ainu came from!” and could help her. Although Hilger says in her 1969 report to the National Geographic Society that “[t]here is no doubt that the Ainu are Caucasoid,” judging by their appearances((Hilger (1969), op. cit., p. 91. It is ironic that this view has been denied by such genetic anthropologists as Saitou Naruya and Omoto Keiichi, who collected blood samples from at least more than fifty Ainu people in the past and reused them for their recent genetic studies. Of course, I am not going to delve into this issue here.