Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 8 News List

What the Aboriginals need is a little justice

By Wu Li-hwa 伍麗華

Judging from the news over the last week it is apparent that Taiwan's indigenous people are once again facing a crisis of self respect.

The official name "Aboriginal" may well have an impressive ring to it, but it often carries a derogatory connotation. There are four major ethnic groups in Taiwan, namely the Aboriginals, the Hoklo, the Hakka, and the most recent immigrants from China. The term "Aboriginal" differs from the other three in that here it also implies the idea of "the colonized." In comparison, the Hoklo and Hakka are seen as the dominant ethnic groups, and the more recent group as foreign immigrants. The concept of being the colonized group is an odious fact that we Aboriginals have had to deal with and accept in silence.

Being officially recognized as the indigenous people of Taiwan, one would think that we would be accorded a high status. This, however, is merely an illusion. Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), who often speaks without thinking, broke the illusion the other day with her comments about "black pygmies."

As a descendant of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan I would like to point out that the term "Aboriginal" was not a label given to us for no reason. The rights to a piece of land is decided on the basis of who came first.

With this in mind, how can anyone challenge the fact that the Aboriginals are the indigenous people of Taiwan when history clearly attests to it? In their hearts, Aboriginal people are well aware that this prejudice is deeply rooted in the minds of other ethnic groups.

Some people have criticized the preferential treatment received by university and high school students of Aboriginal background for various reasons. One argument contends that Aboriginals who enter good schools on the basis of their artificially inflated grades will find it hard to keep up with other students. Some say that it is unfair to enhance the grades of Aboriginal students if they are receiving the same quality of education as everybody else. Another opinion has it that such a policy implies the relative inferiority of Aboriginal students. I cannot agree with any of these criticisms. What is wrong with Aboriginals obtaining some guarantees, given the relatively small size of their ethnic group? Why shouldn't they receive some protection based on their status as the original inhabitants of the island? What is so terrible about cutting them some much needed slack since they are forced to study the culture and value systems of another people?

Living in the mountains, Aboriginals have very little, nor are they permitted to buy or sell the land or even cultivate it. All they can do is sit back and watch people from the plains below profiting from the mountains while they take care of the environment on behalf of the government -- only to have this government turn around and blame them for excessive cultivation.

At a time when a new awareness based on one's ethnicity is taking shape the Taiwanese had better find love in their hearts for the people of their country soon if they do not want the Aboriginals to call for their own independence.

It is difficult enough for minority ethnic groups to ensure their own survival within the larger social environment. Hardships lie around every corner, and progress is difficult. Aboriginals do not hold out too much hope for social justice -- they just want a little consideration. I don't pretend to be a wise woman so I cannot claim to have all the answers. I just want a little justice for the Aboriginals.

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