[JURIST] A spokesman for the Japanese cabinet said Friday that the government would officially recognize the Ainu [backgrounder] - an ethnic minority mainly concentrated on Japan's Hokkaido island who traditionally lived by hunting, gathering and fishing - as an indigenous population after both houses of the country's parliament unanimously endorsed a non-binding resolution urging the move. The spokesman added that the government will establish a committee to discuss measures to protect members of the group. The long-resisted official recognition comes in response to Japan's obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [PDF text], passed [JURIST report] by the UN General Assembly last September with Japan's support. This will be the first time that Japan has recognized a group as indigenous. Bloomberg has more. The Mainichi Daily News has local coverage.
The Japanese government has long been accused of discriminating against the Ainu, despite a 1997 law [text] meant to protect Ainu rights. Previous to that, the Ainu fell under the 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborigine Protection Law, which promoted their assimilation with mainstream Japanese society. Experts say that the government's traditional assimilation policy [CWIS backgrounder] and wide-spread discrimination have reduced the Ainu population and has led to the group trailing behind the rest of the nation in education and income.