Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Land rights the key to Aborigines' fortunes

By Along Chen 陳永龍

In the first televised presidential debate, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) counterpart Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) were politically correct in their promotion of Aboriginal culture and education issues.

Ma apologized for his "slip of the tongue" when he told Osay Saoma, executive director of the Sijhou (溪洲) Community Self-help Association: "I see you as a human being ... will educate you well."

Hsieh, on the other hand, stressed strategic partnerships with Aborigines by stressing that the public should learn from their collective lifestyle.

The media, meanwhile, focused on members of Sijhou and Sanying (三鶯) townships holding up banners reading "We live here" and members of other organizations representing disadvantaged groups and labor unions staging a protest outside the debate venue. Apparently, the human rights and rights of abode of disadvantaged groups have been ignored.

Much of the Aborigines' land has fallen into the hands of corporations, and Aboriginal tribes have not shared in the profits made from tourism development on those lands. Worse still, they do not have rights to the natural resources on traditional Aboriginal land. As for urban Aboriginal land, the Taipei County Government has threatened to demolish Sijhou Township after forcibly removing residents from Sanying Township last week.

During the debate Ma mentioned the authentication system for the Aborginal Creation and Cultural Heritage Awards (原住民薪傳獎) and twice mentioned the experimental self-autonomy proposal.

However, a further examination of Ma's "diverse and prosperous Aboriginal culture" platform on his official campaign Web site reveals that the content is almost exactly the same as what the Council of Indigenous Peoples is already planning to do, except for the "NT$50 billion over four years" budget policy.

The platform lacks an integrated overall perspective on Aboriginal policy.

In contrast, Hsieh took a legal approach and emphasized the importance of the Aboriginal Basic Law (原住民族基本法) and seven related laws. Surprisingly, there is nothing on Hsieh's official campaign Web site dealing with Aboriginal policy, although his white paper on a sustainable environmental policy says that in order to protect the basic survival rights of Aborigines, a safe environment must first be safeguarded which guarantees their rights, respects their traditional customs and practices and states that the right to determine their own development should be returned to the Aborigines.

While both candidates stress Aboriginal culture as an element of Taiwan's cultural diversity, Hsieh sees the historical background -- It is the alien regime and its mistakes that have caused Aborigines to lose their traditional territories and become disadvantaged and marginalized.

Examining Ma's policy for urban Aborigines, we find that he ignores traditional Aboriginal customs for the sake of "safety" and supports the KMT-governed Taipei County in its removal of urban Aboriginal communities.

Hsieh, on the contrary, is aware of the Aboriginal homeland problem, so he suggested maintaining the "status quo" with regard to the Sijhou Township issue because it is a social problem and should not be handled as an illegal construction issue.

Aborigines are still not granted the legal right to live on the land they depend on for their survival.

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