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Newsmakers: Aboriginal crusader Chen to enter Cabinet

PUBLIC SERVICE Chen Chien-nien, a former Taitung County Commissioner, has built a reputation as a determined, hard-working advocate for the nation's native people

By Sandy Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

When Chen Chien-nien (陳建年) was designated the new chairman for the Council of Aboriginal Affairs, people familiar with him commented that it was job he was uniquely suited to.

"Chen has long carried a strong sense of mission in his work for the Aborigines," said Hsu Ming-yuan (徐明淵), a former Taitung County deputy commissioner and Chen's colleague for the past eight years. "I am confident he will perform admirably as the Cabinet's chairman for the Council of Aboriginal Affairs."

Chen, of the Puyuma tribe and the first Aborigine ever to hold the post of county commissioner, accomplished much as Taitung County commissioner during his two-term tenure from 1993 to 2001.

"Unlike most other city and county commissioners, who focus more on city planning and construction, Chen paid tremendous attention to ethnic integration, cultural development and ecological preservation," Hsu said

Chen's work did not go unnoticed. In 1999, Global View Magazine recognized Taitung County's local government as number one in the nation for environmental friendliness, education and cultural issues.

Last year, under Chen's direction, Taitung County was again awarded honors when Health Magazine recognized Taitung County as the nation's healthiest city.

The same year, Chen had higher approval ratings than commissioners in Keelung City, Ilan County and Hualien County, according to a poll conducted by Shih Hsin University.

Commenting on Chen's governing style, Hsu said "Chen is a detail-oriented, hard-working individual."

"There is no doubt about Chen's integrity," Hsu said. "Chen is a straight-shooter."

Hsu added that by being somewhat of a perfectionist, "sometimes Chen puts too much pressure on himself and the people around him."

After stepping down from the post of county commissioner last year, Chen was nominated by the KMT and won a seat as a legislator-at-large in last month's election.

However, in accordance with the Constitution, Chen will relinquish the legislative seat after taking up his Cabinet post.

Since the KMT has prohibited party members from joining the Cabinet without its consent, Chen faces expulsion by the party's Discipline and Evaluation Committee.

Many who are familiar with Chen say that his decision to join the Cabinet was not made out of a desire for personal gain, but to work on behalf of the nation's native people.

Chen once said of himself that, "I am earnest about returning to the nation's Aborigines the respect, confidence and place in society they so richly deserve."

"During Chen's tenure as Taitung County Commissioner, he fought relentlessly to enhance the welfare of Aborigines," said Hsu.

"So he was often criticized for the extraordinary attention he paid to Aboriginal issues.

"By accepting the position as the council's chairman, it is an opportunity for Chen to devote himself wholeheartedly to an issue he cares about deeply -- the well-being of Aborigines."

Payen Tawu -- an Atayal and an outgoing DPP legislator -- echoed Hsu's remarks.

"Chen's efforts in Aboriginal affairs during his tenure in Taitung were truly remarkable," Tawu said.

"However, I think Chen would do an even better job if he were to follow his own conscience more and listen to his political party less," Tawu added.

"But I join with those around the country who hope that Chen will continue to fight for the welfare of Aborigines when he ascends to the Cabinet by implementing programs to enhance the well-being of the Aboriginal people."

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