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Taiwan President opens Austronesian Forum with promises to better education for indigenous people

Representatives from 12 Austronesian Forum member states gathered in Taipei on August 1 to promote their common language root

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Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the Austronesian Forum held in Taipei on August 1

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at the Austronesian Forum held in Taipei on August 1 (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said Wednesday the government will continue to carry out work of transitional justice for the indigenous peoples in Taiwan and support the education that helps preserve their culture and languages.

The Austronesian Forum began at the Grand Hotel in Taipei the morning of Wednesday, August 1 as part of the commemorative events celebrating the Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The forum had been suspended for 10 years until member states reached a consensus in 2017 to bring it back, and to resume talks and practices to promote language and cultural exchange as well as common interests of countries that share the Austronesian heritage.

Representatives of the 12 member states, including the President of the Marshall Islands Hilda C. Heine and Governor of Guam Eddie Baza Calvo, both of whom are paying official visits to Taiwan this week, attended the opening ceremony.

Taiwan President opens Austronesian Forum with promises to better education for indigenous people

▶︎ An indigenous group gives a dance performance at the Austronesian Forum (Source: CNA)

Following prayers and blessings led by the chief of Thao people (邵族) and a gripping dance performance, President Tsai took the stage. She remarked that over the last two years, her administration has continued to treat matters of transitional justice for indigenous people in Taiwan very seriously.

Emphasizing that education is of key importance when it comes to realizing transitional justice, President Tsai said the authorities will continue to support the development of diverse education for Taiwan’s indigenous people and to preserve their culture and languages.

The president also said that since education is a common interest for the Austronesian community, governments and individuals alike can learn from one another, share experiences, and create new approaches to sustainable development together through the Austronesian Forum.

President Heine urged indigenous leaders participating in the forum to team up to tackle climate change as it is threatening many Austronesian nations located in the Pacific.

Heine said climate change has emerged as the greatest concern of our lifetime even though there are world leaders who continue to deny that climate change is not real.

“For nations like the Marshall Islands, which is at the forefront of the global phenomena, climate change is not only real, it is a matter of life and death,” said Heine.

President Heine attributes the growing environmental problems to the fact that modern people have moved away from the sustainable use of natural resources and forgotten the wisdom and insight of their ancestors.

“To safeguard our future, I believe we must look to the past,” said President Heine, adding that the forum should be a very important step in that direction for the Austronesian community towards mulling over measures that will promise a better future.

More than 2,000 languages in the world belong to the Austronesian language family. Austronesian languages spread across the Pacific Ocean and are believed by some scholars to have originated from the indigenous ancestors in Taiwan.

The Austronesian Forum is headquartered in Palau and its members include Kiribatis, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand, Palau, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Tuvalu, Nauru, Guam, the American state of Hawaii, and Taiwan.