――In Light of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples――


Strange Silence on the "Exchanged" Ancestral Remains of Australian Aborigines (rev.)

As I wrote here and here, something strange seems to be going on among the Japanese government, the Australian government, and the Ainu Association of Hokkaido.

Based on the Kyodo News, The Global New Light of Myanmar reported on June 7 (Wed.), 2017 that "The Japanese government said on Monday it will start negotiations with Australia toward returning to Japan the remains of indigenous Ainu people held by Australian museums." (Emphasis added.) It was only three days after the Japanese government's announcement and one day after the Kyodo's report that Australian Ambassador to Tokyo, Richard Court, visited the Ainu Association to convey his government's intention to return "three sets of Ainu remains currently held in Australia by the National Museum of Australia and Museums Victoria." (Facebook of the Embassy of Australia.) Besides, the Australian government had already "notified Japan in May" about the Ainu remains.(Kyodo News.)

The Kyodo news article says that Tokyo "will confirm the wishes of the association before beginning talks with Canberra." So did the Australian ambassaor's visit come as a surprise to the Japanese government and, in particular, to the Ainu Association? Is that why the Vice Executive Director (Mr. Abe), rather than the Executive Director (Mr. Kato), received the ambassador?*1 Or it may be just that Mr. Kato was sick or too busy to be present in Sapporo. Or it may be that Ambassador Court just stopped by on his way back from Tomakomai. Whatever the case, it is quite interesting that the "wishes of the association" had not been confirmed by the Japanese government in advance and that, according to the Hokkaido Shimbun, the Australian museums in question are ready to return the remains upon the application from the Association -- although there are subtle nuances between this report and the embassy's facebook post. In other words, the Ainu Association had neither approached the government of Australia nor applied for the repatriation of those remains.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun (June 8), the Ambassador presented to Mr. Abe a report which explains how the remains have been preserved. What is strange to me is that none of the parties concerned made any mention of the ancestral remains of Australian aborigines, which are said to have been "exchanged" with those Ainu ancestral remains and kept in the museum of the University of Tokyo. Has the Australian government not even inquired about those Aboriginal remains?

I wonder how those Aboriginal remains have been taken care of in the Todai museum. Have they been left unattended, missing, or destroyed in the process of DNA analysis, just as Ainu human remains have experienced in more than a dozen Japanese universities and museums? Who would regard it inconvenient if the actual conditions of those Aboriginal remains come to light?

The repatriation process of indigenous peoples' ancestral remains must be "transparent" as Para. 27 of the Outcome Document of the 2014 UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples provides.


*1:Their official titles are taken from here.