President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) mistaking a Paiwan man for a member of the Amis tribe during a meeting with Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award recipients on Tuesday again revealed his abysmal ignorance of Aboriginal culture.
Choreographer Bulareyaung Pagarlava, attended the meeting in a traditional Paiwan outfit. However, when Ma greeted him and shook his hand, he asked: “Are you an Amis?”— a comment Pagarlava later said hurt his feelings.
It was not the first time Ma’s comments and actions have betrayed his lack of understanding of Aboriginal culture and discrimination against the nation’s Aborigines.
During the presidential campaign in 2007, Ma, the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate, visited Sijhou Community in Xindian, New Taipei City (新北市) amid protests from Amis members living there against a relocation plan.
When a local resident pleaded for “President Ma” to build an embankment to prevent the community’s relocation, he told the woman: “If you come into the city, you are a Taipei citizen; I see you as a human being, I see you as a citizen, and I will educate you well. Aborigines should adjust their mentality — if you come into the city you have to play by its rules.”
This insult was more than just a slip of tongue. It reflected Ma’s elitist attitude and deep discrimination against the group.
Ma later apologized for the comments, insisting that he had been quoted out of context and pledged to promote policies that would improve the rights of the indigenous people if elected.
Five years have passed since he was elected and little progress has been made. Aboriginal autonomy has not become a reality and ethnic discrimination continues.
Last year, former KMT Central Standing Committee (CSC) member Liao Wan-lung (廖萬隆) suggested in a CSC meeting that intermarriage between Aborigines and non-Aborigines should be discouraged to maintain the “purity” of Aboriginal blood.
A Mainland Affairs Council-sponsored TV ad that referred to the Aboriginals as pa-nga — an Amis word for penis or “loose women” — also sparked fury among Aboriginal tribes.
Ma, who promised to implement Aboriginal autonomy during the 2008 presidential campaign, told a CSC meeting last year that “ceding territories” to Aborigines to create autonomous regions was not what was best for Aborigines, since it could isolate them.
He also said the public should value the sporting or musical talents of Aborigines more, and that Aborigines may need “some degree of protection.”
Incidents of discrimination against Aborigines under the Ma administration have sabotaged efforts to raise public awareness of Aboriginal issues and to enable Aborigines to regain their cultural pride, long suppressed under KMT rule.
Taiwan’s 14 Aboriginal tribes account for only 2 percent of the population, and yet each tribe has established its own cultural system. Ma’s failure to recognize the traditional costume of the Paiwan tribe and to study the background of the award recipients made his promises to promote Aboriginal culture and improve the rights of Aborigines unconvincing.
To fulfil his promises and promote the rights of Aborigines, Ma should abandon his elitist, Han-centric mentality, and push the legislative review of a draft Aboriginal autonomy act that would allow each tribe to take on greater responsibility for preserving its own cultural assets as well create authentic autonomous regions.
The government should also promote the Indigenous Peoples Intellectual Property Act (原住民族傳統智慧創作保護條例), as the nation’s tribes start applying for protection of tribal naming rights and intellectual property under a trial implementation launched this year.