Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Tribes need more say in relocation

By Taiban Sasala台邦•撒沙勒

Facing the mountains and forests smashed by the flooding early this month, some people have proposed relocating villagers out of the disaster areas. But how appropriate is such a solution? Will the government be able to resolve the problems of Aboriginal tribe development and the restoration of communities simply by relocating villages? More deep thought on this is needed.

Although whole communities have been forced to relocate due to war or plagues in the past, this is not something that has been frequently seen. Basically, relocations mostly occur when there is growing internal demand for resources like hunting grounds or farmland. Those who leave a community voluntarily, without external interference, often maintain their consanguineous relationship with those in the original community. This firmly supports the cultural spirit and interactions between the old and new communities.

In other words, the connection between Aborigines and their land is related to their space, history, culture and the collective memory behind them. It forms a network not only for their economic activities, but also for interpersonal interaction. Consequently, relocation has a detrimental effect on their physical, economic and cultural survival, which could cause their original closely-knit community to crumble and collapse. This is exactly why Peruvians refused to move after a volcanic eruption killed about 4,500 people in 1971.

In Taiwan's history, colonialists' invasive and interruptive relocation policies over the past 400 years have repeatedly changed the traditional cultural integration mechanism of Aboriginal tribes. As a result of such relocations, state power has directly overthrown tribe traditions, depriving Aborigines of the natural resources crucial to their survival while forcing them to leave their homeland and wander around in modern cities. From the collective communities of the past to the scattered individuals of today, their culture can barely be passed on.

For example, Atayal people from Kalaso were forced to relocate in 1960 due to the construction of the Shihmen Dam, and have lived a miserable life ever since. The Truku, Bunun, Paiwan and Rukai have also lost their hunting grounds and sacred lands one after another due to the government's establishment of national parks and conservation areas. Countless Aborigines have lost their land and natural resources, and have been disconnected from their homeland for several generations due to legal restrictions and inappropriate policies.

Article 10 of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly states, "Indigenous peoples shall not be forced from their lands or territories." The same article also states, "No relocation shall take place without the free and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return."

Therefore, post-disaster restoration of Aboriginal tribes should take cultural, physical, humanistic and ecological considerations into account. In terms of physical restoration, apart from enhancing water and soil conservation and improving the quality of roads and infrastructure, the restoration process should make use of building materials suited to the local culture and environment, so that Aboriginal villages can be rebuilt with their particular styles and characteristics intact. Aboriginal architects can play an important role in this process.

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