Sun, Jul 30, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The struggle for a proper name

Taiwan’s Aborigines spent a decade trying to shed their government designation as “mountain compatriots,” finally succeeding in 1994 in an important symbolic victory for Aboriginal rights

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

That year, the National Assembly convened to amend the constitution. One of the agenda items concerned guaranteed seats in the Legislature for “mountain compatriots.” If passed, this would be the first time the hated designation appeared in the constitution.

Icyang and other protestors marched to the National Assembly meeting grounds at Yangmingshan’s Zhongshan Hall, and after being blocked by security several times, managed to deliver their petition. They made several requests, but Icyang says that the designation change was the only one reported by the media. To his dismay, no action was taken.

The National Assembly convened again to amend the constitution a year later, and this time more than 1,000 protestors marched to Zhongshan Hall. Icyang writes that the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was hesitant to designate the Aborigines as the original owners of the land, because that would imply that the Han Chinese were a foreign people and the KMT a foreign regime, leading to further problems. The National Assembly then suggested zaozhumin (早住民, or earlier inhabitants) or xianzhumin (先住民, or first inhabitants), which the activists deemed unacceptable.

By the end of the session, Icyang and his people remained “mountain compatriots.”

The DPP backed the Aborigines during the constitution amendment session of 1994. In April, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who had opposed the designation change in 1992, publicly addressed the “mountain compatriots” as Aborigines in a speech. This likely prompted the reticent KMT to add the designation change to their agenda as well.

In June, 3,000 people marched for Aboriginal rights. A month later Lee promised Aboriginal activists that they would get their wish. The assembly voted 196-63 in favor.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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