President observes Indigenous Peoples' Day amid protests

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文)

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) (CNA photo)

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) celebrated the Day of Indigenous Peoples -- observed on Aug. 1 each year in Taiwan -- at the National Administration Conference of Indigenous Peoples Tuesday, but outside the venue several dozen indigenous activists protested, calling for the complete recognition of their traditional territories.

The annual meeting was organized by the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples under a theme centering on indigenous language development.

Tsai lauded the legislation of the Aboriginal Languages Development Act, which cleared the legislative floor on May 26 and went into effect on June 14 this year.

Tsai noted that languages play a vital role in identifying recognition. It was for this reason that the government pushed for the law, which lists all aboriginal languages as national languages, she said.

She expressed hope that the valuable knowledge and mother tongues of indigenous peoples in the country will not die off gradually because of government prohibition, as was the case in the past.

The president also said that her administration has made progress in carrying out eight promises it gave on Aug. 1 last year to the country's indigenous peoples.

The Tsai government's promises include the language development act, the establishment of the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee, a review of efforts to implement the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law, and the decision-making process in terms of storing nuclear waste on Lanyu (Orchid Island).

Others are the establishment of legal aid centers for indigenous peoples, identity recognition of the Pingpu people -- tribal groups who formerly resided on Taiwan's western plains -- a report by the Cabinet about its progress in the promotion of indigenous historical and transitional justice on Aug. 1 each year, and the demarcation of the traditional lands of indigenous peoples.

Tsai said that facing demands for historical and transitional justice, her administration "has heard many different opinions," which show that "we still have a long way to go."

The opinions include one from more than 30 protesters outside the national meeting in Taipei, who demanded complete recognition of their aboriginal territories.

Some groups of indigenous peoples have expressed great disappointment to the Tsai government over its indigenous land delineation guidelines -- published in February this year -- that do not take into account private land.

As a result, their traditional lands have shrunk from 1.80 million hectares to just 800,000 hectares, they pointed out.

During Tuesday's protest, Lafa of the Rukai tribe and several of his tribal fellows performed the dance of warriors to display their appeal that the traditional territory demarcation, which is now only effective for public land, should not exclude private land.

"Without land, much of the wisdom accumulated by many of our ancestors will be lost, one after another," Lufa said.

Updated : 2021-03-09 06:33 GMT+08:00