Book review: Looking for the bright spots in a grim year - Taipei Times
Thu, Aug 09, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Book review: Looking for the bright spots in a grim year

Oppression and violence toward indigenous people regarding land issues increased dramatically last year, making Taiwan’s issues seem almost rosy in comparison

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

The Indigenous World 2018, edited by Pamela Jacquelin-Anderson.

From forced evacuations due to road expansion projects to the allowing of oil companies to drill on traditional lands to straight up violence and terror, The Indigenous World largely paints a grim picture for indigenous people last year.

“The collection of events compiled in this book shows that indigenous peoples are meeting the highest ever recorded levels of criminalization and violence,” the book’s introduction states.

Resource competition has led to people constantly looking for new land to exploit, while “indigenous peoples’ collective rights to land, territories and resources remain at the core of social and environmental conflict, which is currently on the rise across the globe.”

Some of these encroachments take the guise of conservation, as, for example, Tanzania’s expansion of its national parks have come at the expense of indigenous territory.

But the increased visibility of these conflicts, according to the book, has put indigenous people “at the center of a global conversation,” which has given rise to more opportunities for change.

While Taiwan has a long history of oppression and marginalization toward its indigenous population, leafing through the book one finds that, at least in modern times, its situation is considered relatively favorable in comparison to places like Russia, where indigenous ways of life are being disturbed and threatened by oil and gas corporations under the blessing of the government; Bangladesh, where indigenous women and girls are being raped by non-indigenous in land-related conflicts and Mexico, where land-rights activists are often murdered.

For all its ongoing problems, Taiwan is placed in the “What is working?” section of the introduction, including the August 2016 national apology by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the establishment of the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee, amendments to the Mining Act (礦業法), which requires Aboriginal consent to start mining and the Council of Indigenous Peoples’ guidelines on the delineation of traditional indigenous territories.

Publication Notes

The Indigenous World 2018

Edited by Pamela Jacquelin-Anderson

640 pages

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs

Softback: Denmark


However, many of these items may sound good on paper, but they are not necessarily “working,” with lawmakers still arguing in May over whether mining on Aboriginal land should first receive the consent of the community affected, and Asia Cement, whose 20-year lease extension caused a major uproar, is still allowed to continue operations in the area despite continued strong Aboriginal opposition. And while the traditional indigenous territories were laid out, protests have been ongoing over various issues including the exclusion of privately-held land as Aboriginal territory.

So things here are obviously better than much of the world, and some things are working on paper, but it’s nothing as rosy as the introduction seems to suggest. The issues are detailed in the eight-page chapter on Taiwan, which provides an overview of the Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan, including the Pingpu, or plains Aborigines of which many are still fighting for recognition.

The chapter covers last year pretty comprehensively. Positives includes the Indigenous Language Development Act (原住民族語言發展法) and the international human rights expert review in Taiwan, which saw indigenous participation and the National Indigenous People’s Museum project.

The mining issue is also explored, thus raising the question of why the introduction would list that as one of the positives when the chapter clearly states that the “amendment process has dragged on without resolution,” while protests are still ongoing. Let’s celebrate when the job is actually complete. The indigenous land rights issue is also explained.

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