Aboriginal representatives returned from UN headquarters in New York yesterday after participating in the Fifth UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and said that Taiwan's policies for Aborigines served as a good reference for the UN and that they were glad that the nation had a chance to participate in such international exchanges.
The annual forum is an advisory body to the UN's Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment and education, as well as health and human rights.
Aborigines from Taiwan have been participating in the forum since 2002 but this year's delegation, made up of 10 representatives, was the largest ever sent.
Icyang Parod, deputy minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, said yesterday that Taiwan's representatives had to register through US-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to participate in the forum because of Taiwan's diplomatic situation.
"Even if we had to register through an international NGO, it was still an opportunity for us to share our experiences with handling indigenous affairs in the country and to learn about international developments in indigenous rights," Parod said.
Taiwanese representatives used to be allowed to register through the Association for the Rights of Indigenous People, a local NGO, but can no longer do so because of cross-strait pressure, he said.
Tjuku Palemeq, an Aboriginal representative at the forum and an elementary-school teacher, said that much of the forum focused on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that has been under discussion since 1981.
However, some countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the US are still opposed to the draft because they feel that some of its content is merely rhetoric, while issues regarding land and resources would cause dissent and instability, Palemeq said.
Taiwan's Aboriginal representatives raised two main issues during the conference, which ran from May 15 through last Friday, including their dissatisfaction with the UN's Chinese translation of the word "indigenous."
The UN's translation calls Aborigines tu chu (土著), which has negative and barbaric implications, the representatives said. They requested the UN instead use yuan chu min (原住民), which is the term used in this country. Although both terms are translated into English as "original inhabitants,"tu chu was too derogatory, they said.
The other issue they raised was to include "indigenous elders" in the agenda for the next forum since tribal elders contribute to preserving the traditional culture and knowledge of Aborigines, they said.
Responses to both requests will be given when the forum's annual report comes out later this year.
This year's forum also launched the Program of Action for the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, which focuses on the partnership of indigenous people worldwide for action and dignity. The first decade was from 1994 to last year, during which the forum became a permanent one at the UN.
Parod said that the forum would be held in Asia next year, and focus on regional issues including land and resource disputes between Aborigines and governments, and problems that indigenous people encounter in urban areas.