President Chen Shui-bian (
Delivering the keynote speech at the conference, Chen said that a "new constitution [for Taiwan] must include a special clause" enshrining indigenous rights.
He expressed support for panelists' objective of granting indigenous peoples a level of autonomy that would allow their tribes to become "nations within a nation."
"The guarantee of indigenous rights, including the right of self-determination ... must be addressed by a special [constitutional] clause," Chen said, adding that an equal "partnership between the government and indigenous peoples" and a recognition of indigenous peoples' sovereignty and "natural rights" were core values in his vision of a new constitution.
Council Minister Walis Pelin, meanwhile, praised Chen for his endearing support of indigenous peoples, citing proposed constitutional revisions by Chen and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that would guarantee indigenous rights.
The tone of the conference, however, changed dramatically once Chen and Walis had left.
Leading scholars of indigenous rights-related issues who were not present during Chen's remarks took the stage, slamming the president for failing to deliver on campaign promises to further indigenous rights.
"Of course, [Chen] is not running for office again, so he is not under pressure [to make good on his promises]," said Shih Cheng-feng (
"Well, Chen said some off-the-cuff remarks and now he's gone," Shih added, saying that the president was probably uncomfortable with the word "Chinese" in "Chinese Cultural University," where the conference was held.
Shih then told participants that he had once recommended to Chen that he establish an "autonomous region" for indigenous peoples but that the president had probably forgotten about it.
Shih also accused constitutional scholars of possessing a "kindergarten-level" understanding of the Constitution as it pertains to indigenous rights.
Kao The-li (
"I feel like our feelings are getting toyed with," Kao, who also boasts an indigenous heritage, said.
"Our high hopes and expectations [for more rights and autonomy] have gone unmet," Kao added.
The two professors as well as other panelists called on the government to revise its indigenous rights-related laws so that they would be more in line with how Canada, the US and Latin America treat their indigenous populations.