Thu, Oct 04, 2007 - Page 8 News List

When tribes clash with the state

By Liaw Shyue-cherng 廖學誠

Aboriginal tradition and national law collided in the case of three Atayal tribesmen from Smangus in Chienshih Township (尖石), Hsinchu County, who took the stump of a fallen tree to their village and were accused by the Forestry Bureau of stealing it. The second verdict in the case was issued recently, with the Taiwan High Court (台灣高等法院) ruling that the three villagers had violated the Forestry Law (森林法). It reduced their sentence from six to three months, but fined the three more than NT$79,000 (US$2,400), and sentenced them to two years' probation.

The Smangus tribe has said it cannot accept this ruling. This lawsuit is a clash between the rights and interests of Aborigines and national forest management. It reflects the conflicts that arise between the diverse ideas about life of the Aborigines and the nation's machine-like management model.

The tribes and the government have completely different systems and ways of thinking, and when these two meet, clashes and confrontations are almost inevitable.

In Canada, for example, from the 1970s onward, there were more and more conflicts between the economic exploitation of forest resources and the Aborigines.

Logging not only affects the environment of Aborigines, but also their culture and their inalienable rights and benefits. That is the reason many Canadian environmental groups and Aborigines shut off forest roads, blocking lumber workers and their machinery and equipment from entering forest areas, and carry out large-scale protests.

The world sees this as a "forest war." Aborigines cooperate with international environmental organizations to call on consumers in Europe and North America to boycott products like furniture, paper and plywood made of Canadian wood in ways that influences the rights and benefits of Canada's indigenous people.

These campaigns have had a significant influence on Canadian timber sales.

Although protests and boycotts can attract the attention and expressions of support from people around the world, in the end these methods are outside of the system.

Lawsuits and negotiations within the system are even more important. In 1970, the Canadian Aborigines filed a lawsuit at the Supreme Federal Court, demanding that their basic rights be returned to them.

In 1982, the Canadian government officially included in the Constitution that it had to protect the rights of Aborigines.

In July this year, the Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that Aborigines had the right to establish their own autonomous governments.

Based on this law, there are currently 53 Aborigines peoples in British Columbia carrying out negotiations with the government, seeking autonomy.

The autonomous Nisga'a Government was established in 1998, and it controls the area's rich water, forestry, mining, fishing and other natural resources.

The Canadian government has advocated many policies as a reaction to the surge in Aboriginal consciousness.

In 1986, the Canadian government started to promote a plan for the forest industry on Indian lands, systematically training Aborigines to participate in managing the forest industry. This plan ran for ten years.

In 1992, a congress of forest ministers decided on the basic principle that the Aborigines should participate in the sustainable development of the forest. They also drafted a concrete plan of action that included furthering Aboriginal participation in the management of forest areas, ensuring all the rights of Aborigines in the forest industry, and strengthening the opportunities for economical development of Aborigines with the forest as a basis.

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