Sun, Mar 01, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Aborigines send smoke signals for rights

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Aborigines across the country yesterday coordinated a “smoke signal action,” demanding that the government render justice to them for past persecution and respect their rights to traditional domains.

“People talk about transitional justice for the 228 Incident and the government tries to compensate victims and their families. However, no one seems to remember how the Han people persecuted the Aborigines over the past 300 years,” said Mateli Sawawan, a Puyuma and one of the organizers of the event. “Thus we’re lighting smoke signals today to remind the government about our transitional justice.”

Eighteen Aboriginal communities from nine tribes across the country joined in the coordinated action initiated by Puyumas in Chulu Township (初鹿), Taitung County.

Young Puyumas in Chulu first made a fire on a pile of logs and quickly covered the fire with leaves and grass to create black smoke.

Afterwards, the tribesmen danced and sang around the smoke signal.

“The smoke signal is a traditional way for Aborigines in Taiwan to send messages to neighboring villages, especially when we’re facing danger,” said Sakinu Tepiq of the Paiwan tribe, another co-organizer.

In the past, the enemies of an Aboriginal village could be people from another tribe or the next village — this time, the government is the common enemy of the nine Aboriginal tribes.

“Aborigines in this country have sovereignty and rights to take care of our own traditional domain — these are not only our natural rights, but rights granted by the Aboriginal Basic Act [原住民族基本法],” Mateli said. “The Republic of China [ROC] government has to respect it.”

As many Aboriginal activists like Mateli are disappointed with the Aboriginal Basic Act, they also raised the possibility of creating an Aboriginal constitution.

“A lot of public servants don’t understand the Aboriginal Basic Act and still handle Aboriginal affairs according to regular laws instead of by the law especially designed for Aborigines,” Mateli said. “Thus we demand an Aboriginal constitution that is on an equal footing with the ROC Constitution.”

In addition, Mateli said that they demand the creation of a cross-tribe mechanism that would resolve controversies and monitor the government’s handling of issues relevant to Aborigines.

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