Military Infrastructures and Indigenous Repossession

Authors: Megumi Chibana*, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Land Use
Keywords: (de)militarization, military occupation, indigenous space, resistance, reposession, Okinawa, Pacific, Asia
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Grand Ballroom B, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the formation of military space in Okinawa. The unfolding of "settler militarism" (Nebolon 2017) in Okinawa highlights the ways in which displacement experienced by native people led to the establishment of indigenous identities among Okinawans. Okinawa, the southernmost island region of Japan, lagged 27 years behind the rest of Japan to embark democratic reforms and has suffered from the prolonged occupation of the U.S. military on its land, sea, and over the sky. Even to this day, a set of tangible and intangible military infrastructure assembled in Okinawa continue to uphold a cycle that separates and reconnects the people on the ground. In this paper, I explore the dispute over the former military airfield to unpack contested understandings and forms of belongings to, occupation over, and usage of the land. This paper highlights Okinawan resistance to American and Japanese "settler militarism." The analysis of the land dispute demonstrates a way of indigenous repossession of militarized land by a local community. Furthermore, the repossession of the airfield shows when, how, and to what extent "indigeneity" matters in the contemporary land politics in Okinawa. I argue that indigeneity in Okinawa has been used as a trans-local tool of political organizing and resistance, in which local organizers and leaders can ground the globally circulating discourse of indigeneity in order to exert pressure on the state for the purpose of gaining community recognition, acknowledgement of cultural distinctiveness, and (at least limited) land use rights.

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