Describing the Thao Aborigines of Sun Moon Lake as a "national asset," Premier Frank Hsieh (
"From a cultural and ethnological point of view, the Thao Tribe is a national asset and should not be deprived of the right to a livelihood for the sake of economic, tourism or cultural development," Hsieh said.
"The government will cease all subsidies for the Build-Operate-Transfer [BOT] projects in Sun Moon Lake. Nantou County should also stop dismantling the tribe's reconstruction housing from the 921 Earthquake," he said.
PHOTO: LEE LI-FA, TAIPEI TIMES
Hsieh was speaking during the opening ceremony for "The Restoration of Ita Thao -- A Thao Tribe Cultural Event" held at the Taiwan Aboriginal Culture Park in Pingtung County.
Hsieh said that Taiwan is a country of cultural and ethnical diversity and that it is crucial for all people to learn to respect, appreciate and embrace each other's differences. The promise to return land rights to the Thao Tribe was in the spirit of the Aboriginal Basic Law (原住民族基本法) and showed respect to Aboriginal people, he said.
During the ceremony, Hsieh followed a Thao custom in grinding a stone with a pestle as a symbol of welcoming ancestors and praying for peace.
Hsieh's seeming opposition to the BOT projects at Sun Moon Lake marks a change in attitude. Last month he had celebrated a joint government and private-enterprise partnership with the Sun Moon Lake Cable Car Corp, which plans to install sightseeing cable cars and build resorts around the lake.
The projects have come under criticism from the tribespeople and Aboriginal-rights advocates.
The International Friends of the Thao organization, for example, has accused the Nantou County Government of shelving plans for the 150 hectare Puzi Thao People's Cultural Protection Area, potentially damaging the environment by establishing lakeside resorts and ignoring the Thao people generally.
The Nantou authorities insist that the projects will boost local tourism and raise employment among the Thao people.
In addition to halting government subsidies, Hsieh also promised to move to protect the Thao community's current site.
With a population of around 300, the Thao is the nation's smallest officially recognized ethnic group.
Resident in the Sun Moon Lake area since the Qing Dynasty, the tribe was forced to give up its land and residences under both the Japanese and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administrations, before finally settling in Barawbaw at Buji Hill, a location now known as the Dehua community.
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