Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) announced he wants to continue President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) policies in the spirit of the New Partnership Agreement between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Taiwan. Hsieh's words were a great relief and an inspiration to people who have cared about the development of Aboriginal people for a long time. Yet there are still a few important issues that must be dealt with seriously.
The New Partnership Agreement echoes the ideas of the "New Partnerships -- Decade for Indigenous People" that the UN announced for 1994 to 2003. It was in this spirit that in 1999, when the presidential elections were drawing near, Aboriginal organizations sent a letter to the presidential candidates requesting them to sign the New Partnership Agreement. Only Chen was willing to sign, and in 2002 when he was president, he again acknowledged the agreement with representatives of all the Aboriginal tribes.
The basic spirit of the new partnership agreement is critical to ending the long term extermination and assimilation of indigenous people by foreign colonists. The agreement sought to reverse the Aboriginal position of being colonized, and avoid the passive acceptance of colonialist rule and the related assimilation policies.
As a spokesman for Aborigines, I shall explain the historical significance of the partnership, and interpret its content. The most basic content of the agreement is also the most important: Establishing a basic spirit of self-determination and promoting a movement for social reform of Aboriginal society.
Hsieh wants to continue a policy that is in accordance with Aboriginal rights. This is a much better approach than that of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who in his book Taiwan Spirit altogether avoids the long-term position of Aboriginal people. However, if the partnership agreement is not carried out and remains only on paper, then it will be a continuation and duplication of the time of the Japanese empire and the authoritarian KMT government, when the relationship between government and Aborigines was one between master and subordinate, like a "new ownership agreement."
Several cases related to Aboriginal autonomy and Aboriginal basic rights are worrying.
For example, there is the Tsou wild honey case, in which two Tsou men were accused of robbery after they confiscated wild honey that a Han man had obtained from Tsou property without permission of the Tsou community.
There is also the decline of the number of flying fish on Lanyu (
We hope that under the leadership of Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄), we can at least establish an Aboriginal autonomous region, and that Chang makes this clear by signing the promises of the partnership.
We do know that the projects the partnership agreement aims to carry out are difficult and complicated. After all, liberation from centuries of hegemonic control is not something that can be accomplished overnight. With the current weak state of Aboriginal society this will be difficult.
The work of the decolonization of Aboriginal society has already started. We hope that the people that will be in charge after next year's elections can join an international progressive force, and continue to carry out a "new partnership" based on mutual respect, not a "new ownership."
Isak Afo is spokesperson of the Taiwan Indigenous Association.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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