Indigenous East Asia
(Photo Credit: Dr. Eveline Washul)
In traditional textbooks, we rarely hear about the history, languages, and cultures of the many indigenous people and other ethnic minorities who live or have lived in East Asia. From the Ainu in Northern Japan to the Seediq in the highlands of Taiwan and the large Uighur and Tibetan minorities in China and many others, ethnic minorities and indigenous people have strived to protect their rich heritages and linguistic characteristics against colonial powers, expanding nation-states, as well as the homogenizing forces of globalization. It is increasingly being recognized, exemplified by UNESCO’s “Indigenous Languages Decade” (2022-2032), that indigenous languages and the epistemologies embedded in them are fundamental for the perseverance of biological and cultural diversities. The protection and promotion of linguistic diversity help to improve the human potential, agency, and local governance of native speakers in endangered languages, which is especially critical in the face of climate change and environmental degradation (“eco-linguistics”?).
Building on our speaker series “Indigenous East Asia” in Fall 2021, EASC aims at giving voice to these people and placing them back on the map of East Asian civilizations. The series featured scholars from various fields of linguistics, anthropology, history, and social science who all in different ways discussed the challenges and possibilities that face East Asian indigenous people in the twenty-first century and placed them in their deep historical and cultural contexts. The series thereby addressed larger issues of identity formation, social agency, cultural resilience, and ethnicity in global and national policies.