President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was noncommittal yesterday on the issue of Aboriginal autonomy, saying it was difficult in reality and that he did not want to make a promise he could not keep.
Addressing the National Assembly of Aboriginal Peoples and Groups held by the Council of Indigenous Peoples, Ma said the Aborigines were the earliest settlers of Taiwan and had played a significant role in its history.
There are about 490,000 Aborigines in Taiwan, Ma said, adding that many anthropologists contend that they are the ancestors of the Austronesian peoples, a population in Oceania and Southeast Asia that speaks languages of the Austronesian family.
While reiterating the principles of his Aboriginal policy, which include respect for diversity, justice, fairness and promoting the autonomy and independent development of Indigenous peoples, Ma declined to commit to Aboriginal autonomy.
He instead repeated his promise to grant Aboriginal autonomy “on a trial basis.”
He emphasized that he did not want to “write blank checks” and he made promises only if he could keep them.
“I know Indigenous people want to govern themselves as soon as possible, but in reality there are many difficulties,” he said. “Many conditions must be created, but in the meantime we can establish Aboriginal autonomous regions on a trial basis so Indigenous people can enjoy autonomy in certain areas.”
On disaster prevention in mountainous areas, Ma said his administration would respect the right of Aborigines to live in mountain areas and would not force them to relocate unless a village reached a consensus to do so.
However, the government would enforce compulsory emergency evacuations should rainfall reach dangerous levels, he said.
The legislature passed the Aboriginal Basic Act (原住民族基本法) under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and it came into force in 2005. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-controlled legislature, however, has yet to approve the act governing the autonomous region of Indigenous peoples.