Tue, Nov 27, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Aboriginal autonomy draft falls quite short

By Huang Yi-yuan 黃驛淵

The Cabinet has passed a draft of "the Aboriginal autonomous regions act (AARA, 原住民自治區法)" which stipulates that Aborigines may set up autonomous tribal areas, either tribe by tribe, or together with other tribes.

This seems like a milestone in the establishment of Aboriginal autonomy, but it is in fact just another empty measure. As in the past, political manipulation is evident.

This is not the first time that the government has proposed a draft to establish Aboriginal autonomous regions.

Prior to the presidential election in 2004, the Cabinet passed a draft version of the AARA, which received massive media coverage at the time while Aborigines happily looked forward to the coming of a new era.

However, the Cabinet version of the draft encountered a great deal of criticism from the public for extensive revisions of the 104 articles drawn up by the Council of Indigenous Peoples, leaving only 15 articles of a declaratory character that lack detailed planning, which stymies development.

In the end, the review was discontinued as the legislative session expired and the draft died.

Today, after four years, a draft of the AARA with almost the same content except for three additional articles has once again been proposed ahead of a presidential election.

The intent behind the AARA is good, but appropriate supporting policies, further legislation and legal education are required before the act can be enforced.

Take the Smangus incident, for example. Even though the Aboriginal Basic Law (原住民基本法) has been passed and the Forestry Law (森林法) stipulates that Aborigines may legally collect forest products in their traditional tribal areas, three Atayal Tribe members who were accused of violating the Forestry Law by removing dead logs from fallen trees were sentenced to three months in prison.

They were also forced in September to pay a fine of NT$79,488 each.

Moreover, in May, several Paiwan Tribe members in Shihtzu Township (獅子) in Pingtung County were arrested after the Forestry Bureau accused them of larceny for collecting horn snails from within their traditional land.

Last month, the government announced the first traditional Aboriginal territory when it proclaimed both the Hsiujuan Village (秀巒村) and Yufeng Village (玉峰村) in Chienshih Township in Hsinchu County as a traditional Aboriginal area. However, this in fact limited the rights of and belittled Aborigines.

These examples have shown that many laws related to Aborigines are absent of real legal content and in reality are difficult to put into practice.

As similar incidents continue to emerge, how can we expect the government to be serious about the draft this time? Or is it just more false hope?

The New Partnership Treaty Between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Taiwan signed in 1999, the AARA draft passed in 2003, and the "Aboriginal territory" announced last month are in fact empty political promises.

As these promises repeatedly fail to be implemented, sincerity and expectations among Aborigines dissipate and the spirit of "multiculturalism" that the government has constantly emphasized is turned into a castle in the sky.

Will the second passage of the AARA draft be for real?

Can it truly establish Aboriginal autonomy?

Huang Yi-yuan is a student in the Graduate Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University.

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