Accepted Paper:

Indigenous movement in contemporary Okinawa: its history and present situation  


Naoki Ishigaki (Okinawa International University)

Paper short abstract:

In Okinawa, a small group of people have claimed the rights as an “indigenous people” since the mid-1990s. Reviewing the history of this movement, the presentation emphasizes the need to reconsider the “locatedness” of the concept in local / national / global contexts.

Paper long abstract:

Since the middle of the 1990s, a small group of people have started an "indigenous movement" in Okinawa Islands, the southwestern most part of the Japanese archipelago. For the people promoting this indigenous movement, the modern and contemporary history of the islands is regarded as a history of colonization and assimilation by Japan. Basing on this understanding, they have protested against unfair realities in international conferences. These realities include 74% of the U.S. military bases in Japan being centered in Okinawa prefecture, environmental destruction related to U.S. military uses, repeated misconducts by U.S. military personnel, and the disappearance of the traditional culture and language. In addition, for the purpose of recovering their own historical identity, preserving traditional culture and language, and achieving economic independence, they have insisted on the necessity of self-identification of the locals as "indigenous people" of these islands.

In spite of their almost 20 years of enthusiastic actions, the assertion has not gained in popularity yet. Although most residents of Okinawa prefecture affirm their "local identity" and "originality" in Japan, they rarely express doubts about "Okinawa as a part of Japan" and "Okinawans as a subparts of Japanese" at all. This presentation reviews the history and socio-political environment of this "indigenous movement" in Okinawa. In conclusion, reflecting on the history and the contemporary situation of Okinawan case, this presentation indicates the importance of reconsidering the historic and geopolitical "locatedness" of the concept of "indigenous people" and relevant rights and logic in local, national, and global contexts.

Panel P077
On being "indigenous peoples": connecting local practices with global context