In 1973, the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism commenced a dam project on the Saru River. The initial purpose was to supply industrial water to the Eastern Tomakomai Industrial Area, about 30 km west of the proposed dam site. Later, the Bureau added hydroelectricity, flood control and other purposes to this scheme. This proposal directly threatened the traditional livelihood of the Ainu people, indigenous people in this area. The Ainu livelihood depended on harvesting salmon, an endemic species called "shishamo" and other fish that are available in this river. The dam site would destroy some parts of their traditional grave sites along with historical and sacred sites. It would also inundate areas some Ainu farmers received under the Former Aboriginal Protection Act of 1899 for agricultural purposes. Two Ainu landowners refused to sell the land to the Bureau, and in 1987, the Bureau used the Land Expropriation Act to forcibly take their lands. In response, the Ainu landowners brought suit against this Bureau's action, asking the court to issue injunction against the on-going dam construction. In 1997, the Sapporo District Court of Hokkaido rendered its decision, acknowledging the illegality of applying the Land Expropriation Act without considering the cultural and religious significance of the Ainu people. The court also acknowledged for the first time in Japanese jurisprudence history that the Ainu people were Japan's indigenous people (previously known as "minority" people). The decision, however, did not issue an injunction. As the dam had been already completed in 1997, the court argued that it would not be necessary to decommission it or discontinue operation.