Indigenous Peoples Day marks beginning of social reconciliation and harmony

  • Date: 2016-08-10

I. Background

The indigenous peoples of Taiwan are the first inhabitants and original owners of this land, with their own languages, cultures, customs, domains, and social and political systems. Over the last four centuries, however, different regimes have pushed indigenous groups to the margins of political, economic, social and cultural development through exploitation, oppression and discrimination. To achieve justice, Taiwan must face up to that period of history and sincerely reflect on its past. As a concrete step in that direction, President Tsai Ing-wen issued a formal apology to the nation’s indigenous peoples on August 1, 2016, Indigenous Peoples Day in Taiwan, pledging on behalf of the government to take comprehensive and vigorous action to achieve transitional justice and promote social harmony and reconciliation.

 

II. Historic apology on Indigenous Peoples Day

A. In the amendments to the Additional Articles of the ROC Constitution announced on August 1, 1994, the Chinese term “mountain people” (shanbao) was deleted, and officially replaced with the term “indigenous people” (yuanzhumin). In the fourth round of amendments in 1997 the Constitution included another new Chinese term, “indigenous peoples” (yuanzhuminzu), in provisions that invest indigenous peoples as a whole with collective rights. These changes both eliminated discriminatory terminology and underscored the status of indigenous peoples as Taiwan’s original owners. In 2005 the Executive Yuan also approved a draft enforcement act governing commemorative days and holidays that designated August 1 as Indigenous Peoples Day.

B. President Tsai’s historic apology on Indigenous Peoples Day was significant because it demonstrates the government’s firm resolve to foster reconciliation and peaceful coexistence in Taiwan society.

 

III. Steps to promote comprehensive policies regarding indigenous peoples

A. The government has taken a number of initiatives to promote indigenous issues. The Council of Indigenous Peoples currently implements an employment program that uses financial policies to encourage self-sufficiency and innovation among indigenous businesses. The council also sponsors a four-year economic and industrial development program to promote the sustainable development of indigenous economies and close the income gap with the rest of Taiwan. Efforts to increase the National Health Insurance enrollment rate among indigenous peoples have been successful, with a 99.4 percent enrollment rate as of the first quarter of 2016, and local authorities have received subsidies to set up indigenous family care centers and tribal cultural and health stations. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has also extended coverage of the 10-year long-term care 2.0 plan to members of indigenous tribes from low-lying areas over age 55 who suffer from disabilities.

B. Underscoring the importance of these issues, the first policy proposal of President Tsai’s election campaign addressed indigenous peoples, outlining three main goals—to enforce the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, promote indigenous historical justice, and lay the foundation for indigenous self-government. To achieve these goals the Executive Yuan on July 29, 2016 approved a government-wide plan containing 32 policies and 80 measures to be carried out by the Office of the President, 23 Cabinet-level ministries and agencies, and local governments. The plan includes a full range of policies designed to improve the lives of indigenous peoples and bolster their cultural rights:

  1. The Office of the President will establish an Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Commission with the president serving as convener.
  2. The Executive Yuan will convene the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law Promotion Committee on a regular basis to handle matters including retrieving historical memories, promoting indigenous self-government, seeking fair economic development, ensuring the continuation of culture and education, safeguarding indigenous health, and protecting the rights of urban indigenous peoples.
  3. An Indigenous Legal Service Center will be established to reduce growing clashes between indigenous customs and modern laws.
  4. The government will present an investigative report on the decision-making process for nuclear waste storage on Lanyu Island. Before finding a permanent solution, appropriate compensation will be provided to the Yami tribe.
  5. By September 30, relevant laws are to be examined so that the identities of Pingpu ethnic groups receive the rights and status they deserve.
  6. On November 1, the government is to begin delineating and announcing the traditional territories of indigenous peoples.
  7. The Executive Yuan will submit for legislative deliberation three bills on indigenous self-government, land and sea areas, and the development of indigenous languages.
  8. Every August 1, the Executive Yuan will report to the nation its progress on restoring indigenous historical justice and transitional justice.

 

VI. Conclusion

The president’s apology to Taiwan’s indigenous peoples was just the beginning. It is more important to turn that apology into government action—and this is the responsibility of all agencies under the Executive Yuan. The Executive Yuan will lend full support to the Council of Indigenous Peoples as it pursues transitional justice for indigenous groups. The government will also coordinate inter-agency efforts to implement indigenous policies systematically so that all of Taiwan’s ethnic groups can enjoy peaceful coexistence and co-prosperity.