Hokkaidō 150: Settler Colonialism and Indigeneity in Modern Japan and Beyond


Coming off the sesquicentennial of the Meiji Restoration in 2018, the 2018-2019 Academic Year marks another significant 150th anniversary in Japanese history: that of the settler colonization of the northern island of Hokkaidō, or Ainu Mosir as it was known to the Indigenous Ainu peoples. In the spirit of continuing the national moments of commemoration that occasioned Canada 150 and Meiji at 150, the Centre for Japanese Research proudly presents “Hokkaidō 150: Settler Colonialism and Indigeneity in Modern Japan and Beyond.” We invite members of the UBC and larger Vancouver community to reflect on the history of settler colonialism and its impacts on Indigenous peoples, while celebrating the local culture, art, and music of BC and Hokkaidō as we renew our mutual commitment to international cooperation and Truth and Reconciliation.
See highlights from the event below, including a music video and photos from the musical concert, video and audio recordings of the workshop lectures, and various digital resources related to Hokkaidō held in UBC Library Open Collections or prepared by UBC students.

Source: Map of Ezo, 蝦夷地絵圖 (Ezochi ezu). 1867. UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections. Click here to see original.

Click here to find the printed proceedings of the Hokkaidō 150 workshop in Critical Asian Studies.
Citation: Tristan R. Grunow, Fuyubi Nakamura, Katsuya Hirano, Mai Ishihara, ann-elise lewallen, Sheryl Lightfoot, Mayunkiki, Danika Medak-Saltzman, Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson & Tomoe Yahata (2019). “Hokkaidō 150: settler colonialism and Indigeneity in modern Japan and beyond.” Critical Asian Studies 51 no. 4: 597-636. DOI: 10.1080/14672715.2019.1665291

Indigenous Music from Hokkaidō + BC

The Centre for Japanese Research and the Museum of Anthropology co-hosted an evening of Indigenous music featuring Ainu performers Mayunkiki and Tomoe Yahata from Hokkaidō, and Haida singer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson with Bill Henderson, Claire Lawrence, Jodi Proznick, Saffron Henderson and Camille Henderson from British Columbia.

Mayunkiki Born in Asahikawa, Hokkaidō, Mayunkiki is a member of Marewrew, a female Ainu quartet singing traditional Ainu songs since 2008. She is also an instructor of the Ainu language.

Tomoe Yahata Born in Shiraoi, Hokkaidō, Tomoe is a curator at the National Ainu Museum (to open in 2020) as well as a singer and dancer, who is committed to introducing Ainu cultures.

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson Born and raised in Haida Gwaii, BC, Terri-Lynn has dedicated herself to the continuation of Haida culture. She is a Haida musician, artist, and lawyer, well known for her work in aboriginal-environmental law and as a recognized keeper of traditions.

Workshop: Settler Colonialism and Indigeneity in Modern Japan and Beyond

Panel 1: Ainu Identity and Settler Colonialism

Gendering Settler Colonialism: Seeing the Colonization of Ainu Mosir from Ainu Women’s Perspectives
Dr. ann-elise lewallen, Associate Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, University of California-Santa Barbara


Terra Nullius and Its Consequences for Ainu’s Eco-Communal Life: The Settler-Colonial Development of Hokkaidō
Dr. Katsuya Hirano, Associate Professor, Department of History, University of California-Los Angeles


The Stolen History of Ainu “Liminars”
Dr. Mai Ishihara, Postdoctoral Researcher, Hokkaidō University


Discussion and Q&A
Dr. Sheryl Lightfoot, Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs, Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, Associate Professor, First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Political Science, University of British Columbia

Panel 2: Artists’ Conversation

In this panel, artists Mayunkiki, Tomoe Yahata, and Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson hold a conversation about Indigenous identity and representation in their music and performance.
This conversation was moderated by Dr. Fuyubi Nakamura, with translation by Maiko Behr.
(Because of poor video sound quality, please ensure closed captioning is turned on. See transcript here.)

Keynote Lecture: Indigeneity, Specters of Colonialism, and the Phantasmagoria of Empire

Detail of Bankoku Sōzu (萬國総圖). Nagasaki, 1671. Source: Bavarian State Library, BSB-Hss Cod.jap. 4. Click here to see original.

Dr. Danika Medak-Saltzman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Syracuse University. Her work focuses on Indigenous Feminisms, Native histories, Indigenous thought and theory, transnational Indigeneity, Indigenous futurisms, and visual culture—including film and cultural production. She examines the transnational movement of American colonial policies–particularly in the case of Japan—in her book, Specters of Colonialism: Native Peoples, Visual Cultures, and Colonial Projects in the U.S. and Japan, forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press.

Hokkaidō 150 Podcast

Episode 1 – Dr. ann-elise lewallen (UC-Santa Barbara)

In this episode, Dr. ann-elise lewallen (UCSB) reviews gendered aspects of the colonization of Hokkaidō and recounts Ainu women’s reaction and resistance to settler colonialism. We discuss Dr. lewallen’s book The Fabric of Indigeneity, the roles of women in Ainu society dating back to the 18th century, and Ainu women’s resistance to Japanese settler colonialism in the 19th century.

Episode 2 – Dr. Sarah Strong (Bates College)

In this episode, Dr. Sarah Strong (Bates) recounts the cultural significance of Kamuy Yukar, Ainu epic tales of spiritual beings. We discuss Ainu oral history traditions, the cultural role of Kamuy Yukar, and the life of Chiri Yukie, a young Ainu woman who transcribed and preserved many Kamuy Yukar before her untimely death in 1922.

Episode 3 – Dr. Katsuya Hirano (UC-Los Angeles)

In this episode, republished from the Meiji at 150 Podcast, Dr. Katsuya Hirano (UCLA) underlines the racialization and dispossession of the Indigenous Ainu inhabitants of Hokkaidō during Japanese settler colonization of the island during the Meiji Period. We discuss the role of capitalism and infrastructural development in Japanese imperial expansion, the impacts of the Meiji Restoration on the Ainu population, conditions for Ainu today, and the ongoing challenges of cultural commodification.

Episode 4 – Michael Roellinhoff (University of Toronto)

In this episode, Michael Roellinghoff (Toronto) highlights the American influences in the Japanese settler colonization of Hokkaidō. We discuss the roles of American advisors, such as Horace Capron and William Smith Clark, along with similarities between the colonization of the US West and Hokkaidō, before putting Japanese settler colonialism into a more global context.

Episode 5 – Dr. Mark Watson (Concordia University)

In this episode, Dr. Mark Watson (Concordia) profiles the Ainu minority living in Tokyo, noting the discrimination and ostracism they face. We discuss the history of Ainu migration out of Hokkaidō along with social issues confronting the Ainu in Tokyo, before talking about Dr. Watson’s recent work with Inuit living in Montreal.

Episode 6 – Dr. Noémi Godefroy (INALCO Paris)

In this episode, Dr. Godefroy (INALCO Paris) retraces early ties and interactions between Ainu and mainland Japanese dating to prehistorical times. We discuss protohistorical linguistic ties, trade relations in the early modern period, and Ainu relations with other Indigenous populations in northeast Asia.

Episode 7 – Dr. Scott Harrison (Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada)

In this episode, Dr. Scott Harrison (APF) reviews international relations between Canada, Japan, and Northeast Asia from the perspective of Indigenous issues. We discuss Ainu-related ties between Canada and Japan, the Ainu perspective of diplomatic disputes between Japan and Russia, Ainu relations with minority groups in China, and issues arising from the recent bill recognizing Ainu as Indigenous.

Hokkaidō 150 Digital Resources

Images courtesy UBC Rare Books and Special Collections

Hokkaidō 150 Class Projects

See below for a collection of visual resources compiled by students in History 271 at the University of British Columbia.

Co-organized and Hosted by:

Dr. Tristan R. Grunow, Assistant Professor w/o Review, Department of History, UBC
Dr. Fuyubi Nakamura, Curator, Asia, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC

Website constructed and maintained by Tristan Grunow
Hokkaidō 150 takes place on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people, and is made possible through the generous financial support of the Consulate-General of Japan in Vancouver and the Japan Foundation-Toronto; the Centre for Japanese Research, the Department of History, the Faculty of Arts, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia; and the David Lam Centre for International Communication at Simon Fraser University.