Based on digitally-mediated fieldwork conducted in 2020/2021, and building on existing scholarship, this thesis works to understand how Ainu in North American experience Indigenous identity-making. Working with eight young adults of self-identified Ainu ancestry at various stages of their Ainu journeys, but all started within the last few years, I ask how Ainu and Ainuness is learned and understood through their primary connection and access to Ainu community and culture: digital spaces. From this, I argue that whereas Ainu identity-making of those who grew up and live in Japan is rooted in Japanese Ainu experience, American Ainu identity-making is largely informed by and rooted in Western Indigenous experience. With this comes uniquely North American-based experiences and anxieties of culture appropriation, identity gatekeeping, and Indigenous authenticity. I argue that such narratives can best be understood through what I call precarious indigeneity—that identity-making as Ainu in North America is inherently unstable and insecure due to the aforementioned anxieties. Through this thesis, I aim to provide another way to reimagine Ainu identity-making that speaks to the realities of learning what it means to be Ainu and Indigenous in present day and as multiethnic and digitally connected individuals and communities rooted in North America.
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Thesis advisor: Hathaway, Michael
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