How Taipei is breaking promises to Aborigines

Quote from http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/05/14/2003360824

By Huang Yi-yuan (黃驛淵)

Monday, May 14, 2007, Page 8The Chinese-language newspaper China Times reported that the Smanguscommunity of the Atayal Aboriginal tribe in Hsinchu County's Chien-shihTownship (尖石) refused to allow Forestry Bureau officials to observe atraditional ceremony expressing the tribe's sovereignty on May 7.

The refusal was sparked by an event two years earlier, in which tribemembers had taken dead logs from trees blown over during a typhoonback to their community for decorative purposes.

The bureau sued them for violating the Forestry Law (森林法) and theHsinchu District Court ruled that the removal of the logs constituted"larceny."

This astounding verdict has made citizens doubt whether the spirit of"multiculturalism" that the government professes is actually possible.

The residents of Smangus have always decided tribal matters byconsensus and through traditional tribal law.

For example, when the tribe made the decision to take the fallen logsback to the community, this action was seen as no different fromtaking food out of one's own refrigerator to cook.

If we closely analyze this issue in light of Taiwan's policy towardAborigines, their laws and similar policies in other countries, itbecomes clear that the government's handling of this incident did notconform to the spirit of multicultralism.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) signed an agreement called "A NewPartnership Between the Indigenous peoples and the Government ofTaiwan" with Aboriginal representatives on Orchid Island in 1999 whenhe was running for president.

He again acknowledged the agreement as president in 2002. Theannouncement of the Aboriginal Basic Law (原住民族基本法) in 2005 furtherconfirmed, in practical legal terms, that Aborigines have the right toself-governance.

The law clearly acknowledges that Aborigines have authority over theirland and natural resources. The articles within the law clearlystipulate that Aborigines may legally engage in non-profit activitieswithin their areas, including collecting wild vegetation, minerals,stone and other resources.

The Forestry Law also says that "If the forest is located in thetraditional territory of Aboriginal people, the Aboriginal people maytake forest products for their traditional living needs."

However, beginning with the Forestry Bureau's lawsuit over the logsall the way through to the court's ruling, the entire process hasrepeatedly highlighted the government's arrogance and ignorance inAboriginal matters. Moreover, the government has clearly ignoredAboriginal rights to self-governance and the spirit ofmulticulturalism.

How do other countries handle controversies between native land rightsand natural resources? The US has given native American tribes theright to manage natural resources on their reservations, includinglumber, water, fishing, hunting and minerals.

In Canada, beginning with the 1973 case of Calder vs. the Attorney-General of British Columbia and extending through the Delgamuukw vs.British Columbia case in 1997, the courts have repeatedly affirmedAborigine rights to self-governance and land use.

On the surface, the government has acknowledged the autonomy of thenation's Aborigines through laws and partnership agreements. So howcan it flip-flop and ignore the promises it has made?

And most of all, why should our Aboriginal friends trust thegovernment when it misuses its public authority in such an obviousmanner?

Huang Yi-yuan is a student at the Graduate Institute of Journalism atNational Taiwan University.

Translated by Marc Langer

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