Tue, Jan 30, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Council pushes for review of autonomy bill for Aborigines

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although the legislature may start reviewing a law setting the framework for Aboriginal autonomy during its next session, the road to autonomy for the nation's Aboriginal tribes is still a long way off, officials said.

Minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples Walis Perin announced at a press conference last Friday that it was preparing to submit a draft of the Aboriginal Autonomous Regions Act (AARA, 原住民自治區法) to the Cabinet, hoping that it could be forwarded in time for review when the legislative session opens late next month.

During his campaign for the 2000 presidential election, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had promised to give Aborigines autonomous status.

Since then, several drafts of the bill have been drawn up before council officials agreed on the current version, said Mayaw Dongi, director of the council's Department of Planning.

The proposed law would provide a framework for Aboriginal autonomy, but the details, such as administrative organization, will be left to the decision of each autonomous region, Mayaw said.

Implementing the law could present quite a challenge, however, he said.

The first step -- definition of Aboriginal boundaries -- could spark endless debate, he said.

"The Atayal and the Bunun live on both sides of the Central Mountain Range," Mayaw said. "Bunun also live in southern Taiwan" and Aboriginal and Han Taiwanese often live side by side.

Financing also could be a serious problem, he said.

"Among the 30 Aboriginal townships, perhaps only two are self-sustainable," Mayaw said.

"Most Aborigines are concerned about the financial issue," he said. "Many would rather not choose autonomy if that meant poverty."

To solve this problem, the council has proposed that the central government allocate a percentage of the general budget to Aboriginal autonomous regions based on the population in each region.

"But government agencies in charge of financial affairs do not seem to favor this idea," Mayaw said.

Mayaw is also worried about potential day-to-day administrative issues.

"They never had any formal system of government on tribal or pan-Aboriginal levels," Mayaw said. "The idea of forming a tribe was something imposed on them by academics."

By tradition, Aborigines are village-oriented, he said.

"Two neighboring villages may share the same language, but they could be sworn enemies," he said.

Other issues, such as interaction between an autonomous region and the central government, will need to be clarified, he said, adding that "some may even require amending the Constitution."

"We would like to push the AARA through the legislature first," but implementing it would involve a lot of work, Mayaw said.

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