Nine Truku Aborigines of Mqmgi Village in Hualien County recently were charged by the police with violating the Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act (槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例) and with threatening people.
About a year ago, to safeguard their land, the nine attempted to stop a large group of tourists from flooding into the Mqmgi Scenic Area (慕谷慕魚風景區) by blocking the road and shooting a firearm into the air to claim their land rights. However, their attempt to protect their tribal land in this way resulted in police charges.
Whether the Mukumugi Scenic Area should be open to the public has been a matter of debate for many years. Beginning this year, Hualien-based tourism companies have repeatedly pressured the county government to reopen the Mqmgi Ecological Corridor, which was closed due to road damage last year. The companies say the closure of the area has caused them considerable financial difficulties.
However, the decision to reopen the area does not only involve the roads. Due to the high numbers of tourists flooding into Mqmgi Village, the area’s ecology has come under great pressure, and in addition, non-indigenous guides working for tourism companies have taken on the role of experts on Truku culture, giving arbitrary introductions to the the culture and ecology to tourists.
Although locals set up a tourist center and equipped it with local guides, most travel companies were reluctant to increase their expenses by hiring local guides. Apart from operating a few businesses that sell food and drink, most of the local people have to silently tolerate the crowds, the garbage and the environmental damage brought about by all the tourism.
However, the problems that Mqmgi faces epitomize the problems of many other indigenous villages. It is not only about conflicts between the local people’s determination to safeguard their land and tourism companies’ desire to make money, the heart of the issue is at the political level and concerns indigenous autonomy rights.
In 2002, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) signed A New Partnership between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Taiwan (新夥伴關係) promising to grant indigenous people autonomy, inherent sovereignty and the right to use traditional natural resources.
However, things changed when President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) pro-China administration took office in 2008. As the indigenous people and their rights magnify the differences between Taiwan and China, Ma’s administration pays little attention to them. As a consequence, many bills that concern indigenous rights fail to make it through the legislature or lack real content. This is also the main reason why there are no laws for effectively controlling and managing traditional Aboriginal territory.
In contrast, other colonized societies, such as New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada, have given many of their indigenous groups autonomy, with which they can proactively and effectively control their traditional territory. One thing that Ma is likely to be remembered for is suffocating the rights of the indigenous peoples.
Chi Chun-chieh is a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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