The Second Conversation between Smangus and the Bureau of Forestry

Arranged by Wali and Lahuy
Translated by Shun-Ling Chen, SJD candidate, Harvard Law School

1. Field notes in Smangus

At 10:55 on Apr 30th morning, 2007. Eight people from the Zhu-Dong Station of Hsin-Chu Forestry District Office of the Bureau of Forestry, including Mr. Yu-Tsai Luo (羅玉財), came to Smangus and were spotted by villagers. Smangus villagers, Ikit, Masay, Amin, Sasan, Masa, Sangas and Wali had a conversation with them in front of the Smangus Visitor Center.

“We have to check the patrol box. It is something that we do every month. It does not mean anything more than that.” Luo claimed.

“People from the Bureau always seem to drive too fast, especially in the village,” Amin said.

“We’ve also read [the beech incident] from the news. Some officials of higher level will come over,” someone from the Bureau said.

“It is not necessary. We did not get any good response in headquarter of the Bureau. You will not sound any more convincing even if you come to Smangus and talk to us in person.” replied Amin.

“But we still need to communicate. Indigenous villages and the Bureau usually have different takes. We fear that what happened in this particular case will become a common one.

“We indigenous people need our innocence to be declared,” said Sasan.

“We’ll try to work toward this direction in the Court of Appeal,” said Luo.

“It is really unacceptable that our cleaning wind-fall trees are interpreted as larceny. If this dispute can be resolved, it will be good.” said Masay.

“We share the same goal.” someone from the Bureau claimed.

“This decision is totally disrespectful to indigenous peoples. We’ve had the idea of conservation for generations. We won’t cut the woods or hunt animals without limits. This is the environment where we live. We should manage our traditional territory following our ancestor’s way. Our ancestor has never chopped off all the trees, unlike what the Japanese or the KMT Government did when they first came,” said Masa.

Amin followed, “In the harsh times like this, please respect the village. In this atmosphere, please bear with the situation for some time. This incident is serious and has caused harm to the village. If you insist on going in, it might cause …(more tension) between the village and the Bureau. Please respect how the village thinks.

“We came with a mission. Letting two of us in would be enough. If we cannot sign the document [in the patrol box], we’ll have to write some reports to explain why we were not able to get things done. If so, this might have negative impacts on our future communication with the village,” insisted Luo.

Amin: Our chief and the head of this Lin (lowest administrative unit in the Local Government Law) are currently away and won’t be back until this evening. Villagers’ consensus is very clear. Please do respect the village and do not complicate the situation even more. The villagers feel more outraged. We (those who were at presence), however, are the ones that are more willing to communicate. Or perhaps we should communicate only until the village is willing to do so.

Masay:“If the new director comes, we’ll let him know this is how we deal with this”

Amin: “Those who sent to our village from the Bureau, they really drive too fast when they come. In our village pact we state the speed limit clearly. Your people seem to have ignored it. Please spread the words when you’re back, that not to speed when they drive in Smangus.

“We’ll definitely do so”, Luo said.

Amin: “The case is currently on trial. It is a harsh time. We’re judged guilty. We have to insist our take, and will not accept such judiciary result.

Luo: “They are two separate issues.”

Amin: “It is the Bureau who sued us. I don’t think it would be a separate issue in any case. We have already hurt by all this.”

“I meant that issue (the beech event) and entering Smangus to sign the document in the patrol box are different things. Last time I entered with the permission of the head of the Lin. We need to continue the communication with each other in the future, and live in peace with each other.” Luo said.

Ikit: “We still insist that you should not enter, now with a serious event like this. And look how heavy the punishment has been decided without reason. You’ve taken the beech away to sell somewhere else. We only took the remains, and now we’re criminals? Is this reasonable? So many damages have been made to this forest, and you guys are just wandering around here. If you’re really concerned about protecting the forest, why don’t you go in there and catch those bad guys?”

Wali: “I just want to know why you need to sign the document. If you just want to do it as a routine, it doesn’t seem to be important to me. If all you want is signatures, we can sign for you as well. But why do you want to go in there? You can say that’s your job, but we also have our jobs. If you insist that’s the reason why we have to let you in, we can also set a patrol box there and sign the document ourselves, or even set a patrol box in your Bureau and go in there and sign.”

Luo: “But the Bureau-administered land is in there!”

Ikit: “What do you mean by “Bureau- administered land’? That’s Smangus’s “traditional territory”. Are you still pretending that you don’t know about it? You come with so many people this time, and the issue is not even settled yet. Are you trying to incite some conflicts?”

“Don’t take it badly. … We’re heading back,” said Luo.

Sangus: “It is already a courtesy for us to let you Bureau people stay here. When we protest in the Bureau [Headquarter] in Taipei, we were sitting outside. It was your luck that I did not bring my son. If I did, I would have brought a knife with me. Now you’re here in my home, you can either apologize or say you want to go to the patrol box. But before the issue is settled, don’t you ever think about checking that patrol box again. Tell your supervisors to come and apologize now.”

Ikit: “You don’t need to go to the Giant Tree. We will protect it well. It will never fall.”

Amin: “Today we’ve sent out people to clean the area around the Giant Trees. We send our young people to clean the roads and to investigate and maintain the order of the forest every week. We are in the first term of our five-year Oyunm (inherent hunting field and traditional territory) Watch and Revitalization Project, which not only covers basic issue, but also leads to adjustments in the hunting and collecting practices. The Project prohibits collecting forest products and cutting woods. I think we have been making all the efforts, it’s not that we do not care about the environment.”

Ikit: “If the forest is been damaged, we’ll notify the Bureau.”

2. On the other end of the phone, Smangus members talked with the visitors from the Bureau:

At 10:55, on April 30, 2007, eight people from Zhu-Dong Station of Hsin-Chu Forestry District Office of the Bureau of Forestry, including Luo, were planning to enter Smangus for regular “patrol. Icyeh the chief, Batu and Yuraw the elders had a conversation with the Bureau people over a landline in the village.

“We’re only coming to sign the document,” said Luo, who kept making laughing sounds – hahaha – when he spoke.

“In the moment like this, don’t you enter our traditional territory to sign anything, and don’t try to enter ever,” said elder Batu.

3. Emphases Smangus wants to make:

 Smangus is not picking on the Bureau itself. But in the past years, the Bureau that represents the Government power in regulating forestry has been doing a very lousy job. (We will continue to tell stories about what the Bureau of Forestry and the Veteran’s Affair Commission have done in our traditional territory, so that the essence of their work, their attitude in carry out their work, the way they treat us, and our responses, can be understood and examined by more people.) This beech event is a public prosecution case, and is decided according to Section 4 and Section 6 of Article 52 in the Forestry Act. Can the Bureau claim that it has nothing to do with the decision? Don’t they have to be responsible? Are they not part of the Government?

We need to keep asking the higher authorities of the Bureau: why weren’t they present and involved in the negotiation in the three most important stages – the negotiation with the village (October14, 2005), investigations of the criminal case (four times in 2006) and the testimony in the lowest court (Feb 14th and Apr 4th of 2007)? After the case was indicted by the prosecutor, the Bureau only sent a rank-and-file officer, Mr. Zhi-Xien Yu (余智賢) from Xio-Laun Division of Zhu-Dong Station of Hsin-Chu Forestry District Office to represent the Bureau and testify. In the second time when Mr. Yu’s testified, we were astonished that the answer he gave most frequently was “I don’t really know.” How come someone who doesn’t know about anything is qualified to testify on behalf of the Government?

Under the Forestry Act, Article 15 (or the Section 4 of Article 15 in the amended Forestry Act), it also addresses: "In forests that are located in indigenous peoples' traditional territories, indigenous peoples may collect forest products according to their needs and customs. As for the area, kinds of products, time, whether there should be a recompense for the collected goods, or other regulations they should follow, the body overseeing forestry in the central government should consult the body overseeing indigenous affairs in the central government and they should jointly decide.” But in the first two negotiation stages, why didn't the testimonies given to the prosecutor from the Bureau ever refer to this article as an alternative way to solve the issue? And this has led to the decision made by Taiwan HsinChu District Court on April 18th - three villagers were imposed the declared crime of stealing the main product of national forests.

The whole Smangus village was outraged by the decision. Since the protest in Taipei on April 22, until today (May 2), Hsin-Chu Forestry District Office of the Bureau kept contacting villagers for a good talk. Batu the elder of the village replied on the phone: "What is it there for us to talk with you? In our negotiation in the Bureau (Headquarter) in Taipei, didn't you make it clear by that the decision has nothing to do with you? You people in the Hsin-Chu Forestry District Office kept calling to say that you want to have a conversation. There's no such need! If you want to talk with us, please write down what you want to talk about in words. We will surely be willing to read it word-by-word."

Smangus strongly urge the Administrative Yuan that they should better reduce the size of the Bureau. After all the waste of the tax for 62 years, what becomes of the mountains and forests in Taiwan? The overseeing body of natural resources in the central government should be reorganized. One premise for this reorganization is to recognize that: many indigenous communities are more capable of carrying out this task than the Bureau and National Park Administrations, because this is the place that breeds the life of our people. What we see with our eyes is not only forest resources, but many spiritual elements that exist in the universe of our forest. For most times, forests won't be protected only by slogans of forest conservation. Now we won't keep silent anymore. We will speak as the owner of the land. That is our land. We will protect the forests and streams of our tribe as their guardians. No one knows this environment better than those who live here. We, the people in Smangus, are capable of and determined (to protect the environment).

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