Many tribes gather at the furthest northwest tip of the United States

By Chinami Tajika
Northwest Asian Weekly

Masashi Kawakami, outside of the Burke Museum (Photo by Chinami Tajika/NWAW)

The 18th annual Tribal Journeys of the Pacific Northwest  will be held in Neah Bay, a fishing village where the Makah Indian reservation lies, on  July 19.

The Ainu Association of Hokkaido has been invited to participate. This year, the Makah Nation is serving as the host of this event, which will have more than 100 canoes and thousands of people journeying from various locations in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, California, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and meeting at Neah Bah.  Last year, more than 2,000 visitors attended the event.

Tribal Journeys debuted in 1989. At that time, the event was intended to coincide with the bi-centennial celebration for Washington state. Gradually, Tribal Journeys’ goal came to be inspiring tribes to renew and expand their traditional gatherings.

The Ainu have sent eight paddlers to participate. The paddlers joined members of the Tulalip Tribes and launched a canoe from Suquamish to Neah Bay on July 12.

Among the Ainu paddlers is Masashi Kawakami, one of two Ainu interns at the Burke Museum. Kawakami said the cultural exchange between tribal groups can bring numerous influences back to the Ainu community in Japan. Since 2009, the Burke Museum in Seattle has been leading the cultural exchange between the Ainu and tribal groups in Washington.

“This cultural exchange will aid the Ainu of Hokkaido in their quest to raise awareness and visibility among the Japanese community,” said MaryAnn Barron Wagner, communications director of the Burke Museum.

As part of the museum’s yearlong cultural exchange program, Kawakami and another intern, Akira Kikuchi, spent eight weeks in Seattle creating an exhibit and study kit about Ainu culture for the Burke Museum.

“It is our duty to inform [and] send out [information about] the present situation of Ainu,” said Kawakami, standing in front of the Burke Museum before his canoe journey. “We can find out the similarities and differences [between] each other so that the tribes can survive.”

The Ainu, who are ethnically and culturally distinct from the dominate Yamato ethnic group in Japan, have a history dating back to the 1200s. Most Ainu currently live in Hokkaido. The community has had many conflicts with the Japanese throughout the years.

Due to its desire to rapidly Westernize, the government of Japan took over the natural resources of the land that the Ainu lived in to help grow its economy. Subsequently, the Ainu fell completely under the control of the Japanese. They were prohibited from observing their daily customs and were forced into labor.

However, there is now a movement to make amends for the years of marginalization. The Ainu Cultural Promotion Act was passed in 1997. This act was designed to provide funds for the research and promotion of Ainu culture, and to guarantee the cultural rights of the Ainu.

In 2008, the Ainu were formally recognized by the Japanese government as the nation’s first people.

“Many Ainu people — not only Ainu but also many tribes in the world [actually] — are suffering from poverty,” said Kawakami. “It is obviously important to bring down [and share] the tribal tradition, which is the core of [keeping a culture alive] from generation to generation.”

Kawakami grew up watching his grandfather, an Ainu activist, protect the Ainu tradition. His grandfather could speak, listen, and write in the Ainu language, and he left some books in order to tell the history of the Ainu. Kawakami said the Ainu people have long suffered from restrictions from the government, which sometimes prohibited their traditional customs.

“The reputation for the Ainu exhibit is excellent. They are very committed to learning film-making for archival purposes and have shown great ability and enthusiasm,” said Wagner.

The two Ainu interns are expected to take home new skills learned at the Burke Museum and at the University of Washington in order to preserve their heritage and foster greater awareness of their people’s culture.

“The Burke Museum  intends to support the revival of the cultural heritage of the indigenous Ainu people of Japan,” said Wagner.

“The sunshine seems to be tough for me,” said Kawasaki with a smile, referring to his upcoming canoe trip. “I hope I can accomplish pulling the canoe until the end.”

Tribal Journeys will be held from July 19 to July 24. ♦

Chinami Tajika can be reached at

Edited to correct facts.

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3 Responses to “Many tribes gather at the furthest northwest tip of the United States”

  1. WLE says:

    Interesting article.

    Actually, the Hokkaido Aborigine Protection Act refers to the law passed in 1898/enacted in 1899 (actually, its the “Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Act” 北海道旧土人保護法).

    The 1997 law is commonly called the Ainu Culture Law /Ainu Cultural Promotion Act or something to that extent (アイヌ文化振興法)

  2. Alex says:

    Went out to see the canoes Wednesday and Thursday at Port Townsend.


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