No matter how hard the rain, or how dark the night, the will of the Aboriginal people sitting on Ketagalan Boulevard remained undaunted. They had sworn to rise to the challenge of reconstructing their devastated homeland and keeping it safe. Their plight brings to mind a passage from Frantz Omar Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, their actions a practical lesson in civic education that Taiwanese society would do well to embrace.
It is more than a year since the ravages wrought by Typhoon Morakot. While one cannot say the government’s reconstruction efforts have been entirely hopeless, we do need to ask, given the degree of protests from Aboriginal tribes, why so many people are unhappy with the work that has been done.
The fact is that every single policy adopted by the government has had the effect of stifling the Aboriginal tribes’ autonomy. Some want their entire village moved as a single unit, but are told it is impossible. There are stories of whole networks of family and friends broken up. People have levied accusations of the abandonment of people who choose to stay on their land, of destroying forests and of the disregard for human life.
Da-ai Village (大愛) is being seen as a model for the post-disaster reconstruction efforts, albeit not without its critics. Christian Aborigines now have to observe Buddhist conventions, since the village was built by a Buddhist foundation, and only few of the Morakot victims have been able to make a living from the hand-made souvenirs for sale to tourists. Most of them do not have a job and some do not even have land to cultivate.
Although the village is being billed as permanent housing, it is a far cry from being a home. The government vowed to respect the will of the victims, but has failed to honor this commitment.
Other tribes encountered difficulties. First, members of the Haocha and Dashe tribes temporarily relocated to Pingtung County’s Ailiao and Longquan military camps were registered as applicants for “permanent housing” on those sites.
Second, the resettlement program for victims in Kaohsiung County’s Namasiya Township (那瑪夏) and Taoyuan Township (桃源) was disrupted, meaning that victims were forced to return to the mountains or to take up rented accommodation, albeit with housing benefits. During the flooding period, transport and communication facilities were severed, but no emergency facilities were provided.
A third problem was that some residents of the disaster-hit areas had previously changed their household registration details because they had found work or sent children to school in the towns and cities at lower elevations. This lead to confusion resulting in the failure to officially register them as disaster area residents and they were subsequently refused the ability to relocate or return their original homes.
In the interests of setting right the wrongs of Taiwan’s colonial history, the UN Convention on Human Rights, the Constitution of the Republic of China and the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法) say the state is obliged to respect the identity of Aboriginal tribes and to protect their autonomy. Post-disaster reconstruction efforts should take into account their right to choose their place of residence and way of life, allowing for their land rights, access to temporary shelter in times of natural disaster, as well as access to permanent housing and protection from further dangers.