Not going to Sapporo in December anymore - I was disinvited -learning note on Indigenous - non-Indigenous collaborations
By Dr. May-Britt Öhman, Lule/Forest Sámi
親愛なるアイヌの友人、私は現在、私のブログ記事を日本語に翻訳する可能性を考えています。 もう少しお待ち下さい。 ありがとうございます。まだまだ暑さは続きそうですが、くれぐれもご自愛くださいませ。
Dear Indigenous friends, scholars and activists – as well as Indigenous allies. Here is a note regarding the Sapporo conference December 2017.
För svenska - scrolla ner - angående Sapporokonferensen i December.
I wish to share something important with you, a learning moment for me and hopefully for others as well. I address in particular those that are Indigenous and those of you that claim to be Indigenous allies and that are planning to go to the upcoming academic conference in Sapporo, December 2-4 201 organized by Prof. Hiroshi Maruyama, http://cemipos.blogspot.se – a conference to which I in September 2016 was invited as speaker, and also invited to be part of the organizational committee. I have been promoting this conference a lot on social media, encouraging people to submit and go – so now I unfortunately need to tell you that I am now disinvited and thus won’t be there. I am sad about this, I had looked much forward to this conference. But anyway, here is my note on what has happened and what I think about it all.
Brief in Swedish: Vänner! urfolk – samer – och allierade. Jag behöver berätta att konferensen i Sapporo i december 2017, är jag inte längre inbjuden till, efter beslut av huvudorganisatören Professor Hiroshi Maruyama som jag under en lång räcka av år, sedan juni 2012 tills nu såg som en urfolksallierad. I korthet rör det sig om att jag har försökt påverka konferensen till att vara inkluderande – både ifråga om språk (se till att det finns tillräckligt mycket översättning/tolkning så att Ainu som deltar kan ha en produktiv tvåvägskommunikation med internationella gäster) – och om att bjuda in Ainu forskare (och inte enbart aktivister) som talare. Det var uppenbarligen inte populärt och därför fick jag den 22a juni veta att jag inte längre är välkommen. Det vill säga - jag är inte längre "inbjuden talare", vilket innebär en särskild status, jämfört med övriga deltagare, samt att man får resa och uppehälle betalt. Jag kan förstås säkert åka ändå, men i dagsläget känns det inte aktuellt pga denna märkliga situation som jag aldrig varit med om tidigare. Här berättar jag mer, på engelska, så att fler kan ta del av det.
On June 22nd, I was informed by the main organiser Prof. Hiroshi Maruyama that I am no longer welcome to the Sapporo conference in December.
The reason for disinviting me (according to the email I received that day) is that I have:
1. Repeatedly asked for proper and impartial translation/interpretation so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants can have a two-way communication with Ainu participants.
My comment: Very few Ainu people speak English in a way that makes it possible to have a proper exchange. For Indigenous scholars and activists coming from the outside, it is – at least I think – a necessary ethical protocol that you can actually listen to and hear the perspectives and experiences of Ainu people, properly translated with the help of non-biased translators. I.e. translators who do not work with Ainu policies or do research on Ainu people/culture/history themselves.
Without proper translations, the structure of the conference will not be in favor of the Ainu people, rather the opposite. It creates a colonial hierarchy; one way, those who speak English get to say more and those who do not speak English become silent participants. In this sense – Indigenous scholars and activists who speak English actually may without wanting it - act in a colonial way towards Ainu people upon the very Ainu territory.
2. Asking repeatedly for the inclusion of invited Ainu scholars.
My comment: It is an academic conference after all. Taking the decision to not invite Ainu scholars and only inviting Ainu activists is to exert colonial power and control. I cannot see it as anything else than a way to pretend that there are no Ainu scholars available. However, this is not the case.
If I have accepted to be an Indigenous scholar invited – my travel and stay being paid for – which was the case, I simply have to ask for my Ainu counterparts. Anything else would be a breach of Indigenous ethical protocol. Or what do you think?
So dear reader, now have been informed well in advance. If you are going to attend the conference- my humble suggestion to you is to think about what you will do about this situation. What will you do in advance to educate yourself on the situation for Ainu? How will you act during the conference to be able to interact with Ainu people in an ethically sustainable way?
I wish to stress that I am not asking for boycott. I wish to inform as I was strongly encouraging on social media and in direct contacts many people to submit and to go to Sapporo. I know that many have listened to my encouragement to do so, and I suppose many still think that I will be going there. I therefore provide my thoughts and concerns – for you to make use of if you so wish. My ambition has since many years now been to open up place and space for both indigenous and non-indigenous scholars, as well as opening up academia to more Indigenous activists and individuals. This note is in line with this work.
It has taken me quite a lot of discussions, consideration and thought to come to this point. It is with great sadness that I find that I have to address this issue in this way. I have tried the “silent diplomatic way”, but it was not working. It got me kicked out quite harshly.
My exchange and collaboration with Prof Maruyama started in spring 2012. I really thought that all that I have said and written on these matters all these years – was understood and respected, and also embraced as part of what is considered to be decolonisation. Now I have had to realise that this was not the case.
So, hence this. I also do hope that by telling this in public, it will contribute to a successful outcome for Indigenous scholars and activists coming to the conference. And in particular I really hope that my choice to speak up will be supporting Ainu people – both Ainu scholars and activists alike – to counter a harsh colonial climate in Japan, both inside and outside academia.
Therefore I have after discussions with several persons that I trust found it important for all of us to be informed and also to reflect and learn together about decolonization AND Indigenization.
[If you continue to read, you will learn more about the background, but if you feel that you are done, I thank you so much for reading all the way here! I also would like to advice you to read articles by Kaori Arai and Minako Sakata in the RE-Mindings volume, and I will also post more resources on Ainu history, traditions, culture later on. http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-228633 ]
The story behind (trying to keep it short, but it is rather long so please bear with me) :
I have been in contact with Prof. Maruyama since spring 2012. Through common contacts in Scandinavia, I was encouraged to get in touch with him as I was going to a conference in Japan and to visit Hokkaido in June 2012. Prof. Maruyama kindly invited me to visit Nibutani, an Ainu village, in Hokkaido. I accepted. More about our exchange can be read in the preface to the publication RE-Mindings (2014) – fulltext is available at http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-228633
I invited Prof. Maruayama to the upcoming Uppsala Supradisciplinary Feminist Technoscience symposium in Uppsala the fall (RE: Mindings 2012).
2013 collaboration on the RE: Mindings volume and on the RE:Claimings symposium
After the symposium fall 2012, which had the name RE: Mindings. Co-Constituting Indigenous/Academic/Artistic Knowledges and Understandings of
Land-, Water-, Body-, and Lab-scapes I invited Prof. Maruyama to co-edit a conference volume, RE:Mindings. The preface starts with me explaining the need to support Indigenous peoples rights and the importance of the support from non-Indigenous scholars to be allies in this struggle.
I also invited Prof. Maruyama to be part of the organising committee for the symposium RE-Claimings Empowerings Inspirings: Researching and exploring by, for, and with indigenous peoples, minorities and local communities, held at Uppsala Universiy October 14-19, 2013. The call starts with pointing out and challenging the colonial situation in academia, where non-Indigenous people are researching Indigenous people and Indigenous persons are still far too few in academia. Please click here to see the call.
2014 - Jokkmokk and Tärnaby
In February 2014 I invited – with my own research funds - Prof. Maruyama to come and present at a workshop in the Sámi territories on Swedish side, during the Jokkmokk Winter market. Later the same year, again with my own research funds, I invited Prof. Maruyama to come to Tärnaby, another important Sámi area on the Swedish side of Sápmi, to meet with Sámi activists resisting mining exploitations as well as working for the promotion and revitalisation of Sámi language. At several occasions I have actively supported Prof. Maruyama in writing presentations and articles, with my own research work and also inside perspectives.
As can be read in the Preface to RE-Mindings (click here for link), the part by Prof. Maruyama himself, I have been the person introducing him to Uppsala University and his collaborations here. As well as his contacts with Sámi activists and artists. I do not regret this, I did it hoping that his work would be of use to Sámi communities, and I still hope that this is the case. In any case, I wish to point it out, as it is part of the story.
Thus, in conclusion, my work has over several years been very much focused on the Indigenizing – Decolonising of academia – as an important arena for indigenous peoples right to self determination and human rights. I also have worked hard for the collaboration between Indigenous and non-indigenous people, although always stressing that it is now time to let the Indigenous experiences, voices and persons to be in the front. To be part of any decision making. Anyone who reads my work, listens to me and in particular those who collaborate with me – both in Swedish and in English – cannot possibly miss this. If they are actually listening to me.
I was invited by Prof. Maruyama – to the upcoming conference in Sapporo 2017. I found this a great opportunity to strengthen Indigenous studies internationally, and also supporting Ainu rights and decolonisation in Japan, in particular as I was told that this was to be a follow up of my symposiums organized in Uppsala.
I was also asked for advice for the call. Due to our earlier collaboration and exchange, I assumed that my suggestions and perspectives would be respected. Which they were – to a certain extent.
I provided my opinion, asking for the issue of Prospects for the Indigenizing of academia to be in the call. This was accepted and is in the call to the conference. (Click for photo)
Short thereafter I was also invited to be in the organizational committee. I gladly accepted – expecting that it would indeed be an Indigenizing conference – true to the decolonizing agendas promoted in the call and that my viewpoints as an Indigenous scholar would be considered important.
However, I soon started having some thoughts about whereas Ainu activists were invited, no Ainu scholars were to my knowledge approached. I asked this question several times, but without receiving any clear response from Prof. Maruyama.
April 2017, Sapporo
I was then invited to attend the inauguration meeting of the Ainu women’s association in Sapporo, in April (2017). I felt very honored to be invited, and also very happy to meet with representatives of the Ainu women’s association.
However, there was a major communication problem. I could not communicate directly with the representatives of the Ainu women’s association due to language issues. And we had no unbiased translation help. We had to communicate with the help of Prof. Maruyama when we sat down for a meeting and lunch. I don't blame Prof. Maruyama for this situation, but this woke me up - and I realised that something had to be done for us to be able to communicate properly. A two way communication between Indigenous people, Sámi and Ainu.
I felt very frustrated and therefore stated at several occasions that it is really important that at the conference there is translation – by impartial translators – available. In both directions, both for Ainu speakers, and for International scholars coming in. And also for the small talk around the conference.
At this point, I also raised the issue of the lack of Ainu scholars – both on the committee – and as invited key notes. To me, as an Indigenous scholar – I felt that I would not breach that ethical protocol – if I come as a scholar – I will for sure meet with local Indigenous activists – but I also need to meet with local Indigenous scholars, that should have the same status as I. To be invited as speakers.
On May 19th in 2017, Uppsala
I opted to step down from the organisational committee. This was after a meeting on May 18th, where we in Uppsala discussed the conference I realized that there was no intention of bringing in any other Indigenous scholar to the committee – I would be the only Indigenous scholar there. I realized I had become a token only. I wasn't listened to. I realized I had to do something about this situation, and I realized I could not lend my name to a conference that was to be colonial in its nature. It was also very painful, to realize, that despite all these years of exchange, important points regarding both the importance of language and communication being raised – and also decolonisation and Indigenization – everything was thrown overboard.
I need to mention that there is one other Indigenous scholar /artist on the committee, Tomas Colbengtson, BUT he is not responsible for the academic conference. Tomas Colbengtson, is in charge of the art workshop that takes places before the conference. I have specifically asked Tomas about this, to make sure that this is the case.
Thus, the academic conference has since I stepped down no longer any Indigenous scholarly representation for its organisation.
My demand before I found that I had to step down was to enroll at least one more Indigenous scholar, preferably Ainu, so that I would not be alone. When this wasn't met and seeing what way the conference was going, I felt I had no option but to step down so I would not be held as a token for a conference where the values I stand for are not promoted.
However, I wrote in my email when stepping down that I still hoped for the success for the conference, that I intended to come as an invited speaker, and that I wished to contribute with my perspectives, as an Indigenous/Sámi scholar with major experiences of organizing conferences/symposiums. I offered to help with limited practical issues for the conferences, but without being member of the organizational committee. I still hoped for the best, through “silent diplomacy”.
Despite stepping down, I thus still continued to talk about my concerns and offered my support. I did this out of trust, and goodwill. I still thought that the conference was to be organize with the best in view for Indigenous peoples, and in particular for the Ainu people.
Therefore I argued in emails at two occasions, with a month in between, that the conference to be succesful – needed to strongly promote:
1. the need for interpretation – translation (as mentioned above)
2. and also that there needed to be invited Ainu scholars, not only activists in the program - as this is an academic conference and will be attended by scholars to the major part.
As far as I can see there is to this day (July 31st) still no key note nor any other Ainu scholar invited. There are Ainu activists- which is of course great!
However, it also international indigenous peoples protocol, to make sure of such things, that the local corresponding Indigenous representatives are part of what ever event is taking place.
If it is an art workshop - of course , local Indigenous artists are invited. If it is an activist event, local Indigenous activists are invited, if it is an academic conference – BOTH local indigenous activists and scholars are invited. That’s the way it is, at least according to Indigenous ethical protocol. And to Indigenous allies protocol. The only ones not respecting this, would be those that pretend to be Indigenous allies, but actually are only fake allies.
Although the number of Ainu scholars are few, there are Ainu scholars available.
I both suggested names and insisted that I would not feel comfortable in joining the conference as an invited Indigenous scholar (having my trip and stay paid for) - if no Ainu scholar were invited.
22nd of June
On the 22nd of June I was in an email from Prof. Maruyama informed that I am no longer welcome to the Sapporo conference.
The formulation in the letter on June 22nd reads:
Unfortunately, you have already left our organising committee based on your own decision. You have no respect and trust for me. Your persistent comments on interpretation and others in relation to our conference can be regarded as intervention in the conference. Not to mention, you have the right to criticise our conference, but no right to force me to organise the conference based on your thoughts. I never yield to such intervention. Additionally, I have no reason to invite you to our conference.
My persistence on translation and Ainu scholarly participation was apparently not appreciated by the main organizer, who on his own decided to kick me out from the conference. In the very same email Prof. Maruyama referred to Ainu traditions
“Ainu traditional way of thinking such as learning each other, helping each other and raising each other.”
I find this rather interesting. It means that the main organizer, Japanese and non-Indigenous himself, refers to Ainu traditional ways – while disinviting the only Indigenous scholar that so far invited to the conference. Maybe another Indigenous scholar now is invited – I don’t know – but I haven’t seen it though. I am quite sure that this is not in with Ainu tradition (it surely is not in Sámi tradition!) , but you who go may ask yourself to learn more. I’d be happy to know what answers you get!
Furthermore - this thought of learning together, supporting each other and educating each other - is part of Sámi tradition. It is also the reason for me writing about this in public. For us all to learn together from these experiences of mine.
As I am not part of the organisational committee anymore, I don't know what has been discussed among the members of this committee, so I don't know how they have responded to my concerns nor to me being disinvited. I have been told by the other Indigenous artist and scholar, Tomas Colbengtson responsible for the art workshop that he had asked Prof Maruyama to take back the disinvitation, but that this wasn't listened to.
A week after this “disinvitation” I asked that my name and photos be removed entirely from the conference website, and that no reference is made to me, as this would be misleading in regard to the conference organisation. The conference makes major claims on being decolonial. However, I find that it that this is not the case. Rather the opposite. At least right now. I truly hope it will change - to correspond to the decolonial claims made in the call.
In any case, it is what it is. The conference may turn out great - and I totally understand if you wish to go to Japan and Hokkaido, to enter Ainu territory and to meet with Ainu activists. I think that Ainu in Hokkaido may have a great exchange with incoming Indigenous scholars and activists to the academic conference. If translation is provided, that is.
I know that some of you going will make sure to connect with Ainu people in advance, and if you need help in this I am happy to support you.
The art workshop preceding the acacemic conference I am sure it will be great, as this is organized by a renowned Sámi artist and scholar – who will make sure to follow Indigenous ethical protocol!
So please do not feel that I am asking for any kind of boycott or alike. I only suggest that you who will be going ask yourself the questions I posed (on communication and connecting with Ainu including Ainu scholars – to support the decolonization of Japanese academia) and think about how to relate to Ainu people in advance and during the conference.
I also invite you all to think and reflect together on interactions between Indigenous people/scholars and non-Indigenous scholars working with issues/research on Indigenous people and how these relations should look like. What ethical protocols should be in place?
Also I invite you all to learn with me on my quite painful experience. I have learned from this that even long term exchanges where I think that I have made my points and perspectives clear from the start and at several occasions, may be completely overthrown by persons I trust and respect. I suppose have to revise my future relations with this as part of my experience. At least I realize will be very careful in the future. I will not accept collaborations without thinking it through and checking up very careful. In particular when it regards other Indigenous people in territories that I am not familiar with.
However, I thank all involved for the learning experience, and wish you all the best and for us all to work for decolonization and Indigenization.
Thanks for reading and learning with me!
And I am sure you will all learn more about Ainu traditions, history and culture before going to Sapporo to be well prepared. I highly recommend two articles in the RE-Mindings volume, those by Kaori Arai and Minako Sakata. [ Link: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-228633 ] I will also post other articles and resources on Ainu within short.
Vájmulasj varrudagáj, Vänliga hälsningar, Warmest Regards,
May-Britt Öhman, PhD
Centrum för genusvetenskap/Centre for Gender Research
Postal address: Thunbergsvägen 3 G
SE-751 20 Uppsala
Also affiliated to
Centre for Multidisciplinary Research on Racism, Uppsala University
ps. If you have any questions to me, please feel free to ask below (if you read my post on Facebook) PM me on FB. or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org