Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Something in the air stinks in Hsiulin

The Taroko Aborigines are locked in a struggle against Asia Cement Corp to reclaim lands they say were illegally obtained

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

"Han Chinese don't want these facilities in their backyards, so these industries have been moved gradually [to the east coast]. And eventually they'll be moved overseas to poorer countries," she said.

Her claims of racism seem backed up by experience. Indeed, on Thursday, during an inspection of the mine by a group composed of landowners, Commissioner Payan Talu (巴燕達魯) of the Cabinet-level Council for Indigenous Peoples, Chung Bao-chu of the Hualien branch of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union and representatives of Winkler Partners, which is doing pro bono work on the case against Asia Cement, the company spokesman Chou Wei-kuen told Chung she was representing "dog shit." Tien Kuei-shih agreed that the company took a dim view of local Aborigines. "They say we're stupid and that we can't read," he said. But, he added, those attitudes are not confined to Asia Cement.

Soldiering on

Standing on opposite sides of Asia Cement's fence has given the brother and sister different senses of purpose defined by their experiences and needs.

Tien Chun-chou married a Japanese man and spent much of her life in Tokyo, returning to Hsiulin in 1995 and became involved in the movement against Asia Cement when she happened upon a stack of the company's documents that seemed to confirm many of the landowners' suspicions about malfeasance in obtaining the land rights. Included in these documents are those containing the suspiciously similar signatures waiving land cultivation rights.

Since then, she has been a vociferous critic of the mine and the key organizer of landowners against Asia Cement, a role facilitated by her comfortable retirement that allows her to dedicate herself full-time to the cause. But that isn't to say it's been an easy struggle. She suffered a stroke last year that almost killed her, brought on at least in part by the stress of the case.

"I came here to retire and relax, but it's been more tiring than anything," she said.

Tien Kuei-shih is tired as well. After 25 years, he still performs heavy labor and says he's simply making the best of an imperfect situation.

"I sweat and toil for my money. I earned it and if it's of any consequence, you can say I'm taking it from Han Chinese," he said.

As for the land rights, he says they were probably obtained through crooked methods, but lays responsibility at the feet of the township administration whom he says "stamped all the documents and pocketed all the [compensation] money."

And anyway, he said, he's weary of a fight against the company that will provide him with his retirement benefits within a year. "It's like throwing eggs against a rock," he said.

Those kinds of odds don't seem to bother his sister, and with the local police suffering from a case of inertia in enforcing the Hualien court's 2000 decision, the odds aren't likely to change. Meanwhile, her brother will be privately cheering her on, because the company, he said, has concluded that the Taroko's land reclamation movement is containable, meaning it's a public-relations headache, but not a real threat to its operations.

Were the Taroko to win the case, though, it would be the most significant victory of its kind and a watershed case for other land disputes involving Aboriginal lands and their occupation and development by non-indigenous populations.

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