Thu, May 25, 2000 - Page 1 News List

Orchid Island Aborigines want autonomy

CULTURAL SURVIVAL The Tao group asked President Chen to make good on his promises. They also wanted something done about nuclear waste on the island

By Liu Shao-hua  /  STAFF REPORTER

Wearing battle gear, elders from Orchid Island's Tao tribe demand autonomy during a demonstration yesterday at the Executive Yuan.

PHOTO: CHEN CHENG-CHANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Aboriginal campaigners from Orchid Island (蘭嶼) yesterday gathered in Taipei to urge President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to keep his campaign promises and grant them autonomy.

The group of 20 Tao campaigners -- referred to as Yami by both the KMT and scholars in the past -- included elders from the tribe dressed in traditional outfits. They pledged to form an alliance with eight other ethnic groups in order to press the new government to give priority to Aboriginal autonomy.

"The new government should propose a timetable for autonomy on the basis of partnership and give Orchid Island its autonomy by 2004," said Tao representative Syaman Rapongan (夏曼藍波安).

Last September, Chen signed a bilateral agreement, or "new partnership" document, with 11 representatives from Aboriginal ethnic groups.

In the agreement, Chen recognized many privileges and rights that the Aborigines would like to implement, such as local autonomy and native ownership of land.

The 45-square-kilometer Orchid Island is located to the southeast of Taiwan and has a population of about 3,000 indigenous Tao residents. Due to its isolation and unique culture, Orchid Island has been widely considered an ideal place to implement Aboriginal autonomy.

Campaigners petitioned the Executive Yuan yesterday and requested to meet Vice Premier Yu Shyi-kun. However, Yu was chairing a meeting and was unable to receive the petitioners.

The campaigners then compared the new government to that of the KMT. "We want to severely censure the new government. They are behaving just like the old government," said Taitung County Councilor Shyman Faagien (郭建平).

"We are facing cultural loss and ethnic extinction. Autonomy is the only way for us to survive," he said, emphasizing that autonomy was also in keeping with the cultural diversity in Taiwan.

A group of Aboriginal lawmakers headed by Walis Pelin (瓦歷斯貝林) said they were drawing up a draft of an Aboriginal autonomy bill and would present it to the legislature soon.

"We hope it will function as an Aboriginal constitution, allowing the formation of an Aboriginal congress," he said.

The Tao want to be able to have their own education system, land ownership, administrative independence and have more control over the development of Orchid Island.

In addition to autonomy, the removal of nuclear waste stored on the island was another main concern of campaigners.

"The nuclear waste has been our nightmare for decades and has caused many strange diseases and mental problems for our people," a Tao senior said, speaking in his mother tongue.

According to campaigners, the leakage of nuclear waste from over 30,000 rusty barrels that are stored on the island is thought to be the main cause of both a high cancer death rate and the birth of over 50 physically handicapped children.

They charged that Taipower and the Atomic Energy Council had lied to them in order to establish a nuclear waste storage site there in 1980.

"They cheated us by saying they were going to build a can factory," said campaigners.

Since 1987, the Tao people have demonstrated against the stored nuclear waste.

In 1988 they blockaded the harbor and successfully stopped a nuclear waste shipment from being unloaded. This was their most successful anti-nuclear activity to date and surprised anti-nuclear activists all over the world.

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