As the owners of Hard Rock, whose brand dots nearly all corners of the globe, the Seminole Tribe already has a well-established international footprint in the business world.
Recently the Tribe’s culture has received global recognition across seas and continents thanks to a 20-minute documentary.
“Ainu My Voice,” a documentary that follows an Ainu woman’s trip to the Seminole Tribe last November, was posted on YouTube in late January and has generated more than 1 million views on YouTube.
The documentary was made by Tokyo-based 3Minute Inc. It explains the journey of Rie Kayano, an Indigenous mother from Japan, and her determined effort to reestablish culture and language from her Ainu heritage.
The Ainu are Indigenous to Japan, but their way of life and traditions nearly evaporated due to centuries of colonization and assimilation.
“The government forced assimilation (and) attempted to erase Ainu culture and language. Ainu culture faced annihilation,” the documentary explained.
Before Kayano’s trip, which was sponsored by Hard Rock Japan, the documentary provides viewers with background on Kayano, who explains the mistreatment she suffered as a child because she is Ainu.
“When I was in elementary school, I was harassed as an Ainu. They made me hate myself as an Ainu. The trauma continued until I was 18,” she said in the documentary.
Kayano attended Sapporo University and was among the early recipients of the school’s Ainu scholarship. She was also part of a band called Marewrew that performs traditional Ainu folk songs.
In the film, her interest in promoting Ainu culture seems to dwindle. She mentioned that she gave birth to a daughter and didn’t sing with the band often anymore, but the spark inside her continued to flicker.
“I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know how to begin,” she said. “Then, the opportunity to visit Florida emerged. I was invited to meet the Seminole Tribe. I jumped on it, thinking this can help me with my future.”
Half of the film is devoted to Kayano’s trip to the Tribe. She arrives at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood, where she is wowed by the new Guitar Hotel. The documentary includes her conversations with Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. and Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie.
“Up to about 10 years ago I was working hard on spreading Ainu culture, but it all felt useless. My heart was broken,” she told Chairman Osceola. “My baby’s birth made me think I have to do something. That’s when the opportunity to visit you arose.”
Kayano received encouraging advice from Chairman Osceola to continue to pursue her dream.
“To become chairman of the Seminole Tribe didn’t come without its own struggles,” Chairman Osceola told her. “There were times when I wanted to give up, but again, picking myself up and continuing to try to finish what I believed in for my people and my family and what my ancestors believed in is the only reason I sit here today with you. So don’t be discouraged. You’ll face many more challenges in life before you finish the journey. So remain strong and vigilant and you’ll achieve whatever it is you set your mind to.”
Before stepping foot on Seminole land, Kayano knew plenty about the Seminole Tribe in part because Blais-Billie visited her in Japan weeks earlier. The two met again at Billie Swamp Safari, where they briskly glided through the Everglades on an airboat.
“This land is very important to us,” Blais-Billie told Kayano. “We turned to the Everglades during our wars. The harsh nature protected us and gave new life to our culture and people. We now fight to preserve it.”
In the film’s most emotional moment, both women shed tears as Kayano praises Blais-Billie.
“Meeting you has inspired me. I want my Ainu culture to nurture youths like you,” Kayano told her.
Kayano also visited the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School’s emerging language program in Brighton. She is greeted by Emma Johns Brown, the school’s dean.
“No English, only the Creek language,” Brown tells her as they approach the emerging language classroom.
Inside, Kayano is seen clearly enjoying her time while participating in activities in the middle of Tribal generations spanning from the young students who are learning Creek and the staff and Elders who teach it. Establishing the language Ainu used is one of Kayano’s goals. Similar to her visit with Chairman Osceola, Kayano departed PECS with inspirational support.
“You are right where we started,” Brown told her. “It probably seems like a distant dream that can’t be done, but it can, and what you saw today is proof of starting with almost nothing to having our language being revitalized and brought back.”
Progress appears to be moving forward in Japan. In early 2019, the Japan government passed a bill that officially recognizes the Ainu as an Indigenous People of Japan and helps promote education about their language and culture.
Kayano’s trip wasn’t the first time Ainu have visited the Tribe. In 2016, a group of Ainu men and women came to Brighton and shared their culture, including songs, musical instruments, traditional robes and hand-carved prayer sticks.
For Kayano, her trip in November re-energized her efforts to continue to spread the culture.
“Meeting the Seminole people changed my mind,” she said. “I now want to do all I can to express Ainu culture. I’ve been inspired to do all I can, whatever I can. I now believe I need to do this for my ancestors. The Ainu culture is worth sharing with the world. I want to tell everyone about the Seminoles, what they have achieved, how much they have endured, and how we can learn from them. We as Ainu can rebuild our society in this way.”
“Ainu My Voice” was directed by Daichi Tomida. The executive producer was Chuck Besher and the producer was Keita “Rusher” Tsukamoto. Drone footage was provided by Seminole Media Productions’ Matheus Goes and Martin Ebenhack. To see the video click here.