Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Walis Pelin makes a name standing up for Aborigines

POLITICAL COMEBACK The Atayal tribesman and former Catholic priest lost his re-election bid in December, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make a difference

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Walis Pelin (瓦歷斯貝林), a former independent legislator, lost his seat in the Legislative Yuan in December's elections. But only a few months later, he made a political comeback with his appointment as the new chairman of the Council of Indigenous Peoples starting March 10.

Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) announced Walis' appointment following the resignation of the council's current chairman, Chen Chien-nien (陳建年), over recent allegations that he bought votes for his daughter, Chen Ying (陳瑩), during the legislative elections.

While stressing that he was only accepting Chen's resignation to protect the image of the Cabinet, Hsieh added that Walis would be the perfect candidate for the position.

"He is of Aboriginal descent and constantly devoted himself to Aboriginal issues when he was a lawmaker," Hsieh said when announcing the appointment last week.

As Chen's successor, Walis has promised to improve the socioeconomic status of the Aboriginal peoples and to address equally the different demands made by each of the 12 Aboriginal tribes.

"Aboriginal issues are complicated, because each tribe has a unique culture and specific needs," Walis said.

"So the fundamental thing is to mobilize the Aboriginal community. As the Council of Indigenous Peoples' chairman, I will aim to strengthen tribal consciousness and assist each tribe in developing its community network -- an important step toward attaining a high degree of autonomy," he said during a telephone interview with Taipei Times.

Aboriginal autonomy has long been a goal of many Aboriginal groups and lawmakers. A dedicated lobbyist for Aboriginal self-governance, Walis and other Aboriginal rights advocates promoted "A New Partnership Between the Indigenous Peoples and the Government of Taiwan" agreement, which President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) signed in 1999 when he was a presidential candidate.

Walis Pelin's profile

* Date of birth: Aug. 8, 1952

* Place of Birth: Nantou County

* Tribe: Atayal

* Education: BA in philosophy, Catholic Fu-jen University; MA in theology, Catholic Fu-jen University

* Career: Chairman, the Council of Indigenous Peoples (as of 2005); Legislative Yuan Member (1993-2005); Nantou County Councilor Chairman (1986-1990).

* Impact: An Aboriginal rights advocate and lawmaker who pushed laws and policies related to Aboriginal issues, including the Aboriginal Basic Law and Aboriginal Education Act.

The agreement aims to promote an autonomous region for Aborigines as well as to protect other rights, such as resource allocation and land ownership.

After more than 10 years of political wrangling, the Aboriginal Basic Law (原住民族基本法) -- a law guaranteeing the autonomy of the nation's indigenous peoples -- was passed by the legislature in January.

The Aboriginal Education Act (原住民教育法), another law Walis pushed in his last term in the Legislative Yuan, was also passed last year.

Under the act, Aboriginal students will receive more financial aid and scholarships from the government.

Walis was born in Nantou County on Aug. 8, 1952. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Catholic Fu-jen University in 1975.

An Atayal tribesman and a former Catholic priest, Walis began his political career in 1986, when he was first elected as a Nantou County councilor. He was elected to the legislature in 1993 and served for four terms, until January.

During his service in the Legislative Yuan, Walis played an active role in promoting Aboriginal rights. He joined a nonpartisan action group for Aborigines (原住民問政會) in 1999 to demanded immediate action to help Aborigines affected by the 921 earthquake.

One of his unnoticed contributions amid the earthquake relief efforts was the establishment of the new Aboriginal village in Puli, Nantou, with the help from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Compassionate Relief Foundation.

The village provided a temporary shelter for 106 Aboriginal families, mostly Atayal and Bunan tribespeople.

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