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Japan Admits Ainu Are Indigenous People

A Japanese prime minister for the first time Friday acknowledged that it’s a “historical fact” that the Ainu minority are Japan’s indigenous people, Japanese media reported.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto made the statement to reporters when asked about a landmark local court decision the previous day that recognized the Ainu as indigenous.

Japan has long portrayed itself as a homogeneous nation despite the presence of the Ainu, a minority culturally distinct from the dominant population and now concentrated largely on the northern island of Hokkaido.

The Sapporo District Court ruled Thursday that a regional government acted illegally by expropriating land to build a dam without considering its cultural relevance to the Ainu.

Like American Indians, the Ainu lost most of the land where they lived, fished and hunted to settlers from other parts of Japan beginning hundreds of years ago and accelerating dramatically in the 19th century.

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