Wearing traditional Aboriginal clothing and bands bearing the word "dignity," hundreds of Aborigines from across the country yesterday staged a demonstration in front of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall and marched to the Presidential Office, demanding greater protection of their rights.
"We are humble and peaceful people, but if anyone insults our dignity, we will not hesitate to voice our discontent," Gui Giling, chairman of the Medical Association for Indigenous People of Taiwan and a member of the Rukai and Paiwan tribes, told the crowd, referring to an incident during a hunting festival in Taitung County last year.
On Dec. 31, several Puyuma hunters participating in the Grand Hunters' Festival -- an event that the county government had been informed of and had approved -- were chased down and body-searched by the police during the night.
The action drew protests from members of the Puyuma tribe, but the police said the search was justified as the hunters had wandered outside of their traditional hunting grounds.
In response, Aboriginal groups from across the country, began to coordinate a protest, saying the police search violated Aboriginal rights.
On Feb. 28, the groups launched a "sacred item relay" walk, starting in Katatipul community, Zhiben Township (知本), in Taitung County. Members of the community walked to Pingtung carrying a traditional Puyuma warrior's spear and a bamboo tube with soil from the community's lands.
Once in Pingtung, members of the Paiwan tribe took over the spear, added soil from their lands to the tube and walked on.
After Pingtung, the relay made similar stops in a Tsou village in Chiayi County, a Thao community in Nantou County, a Saisiat village in Miaoli County and the Atayal town of Smangus in Hsinchu County before reaching their final stop at Sijhou Aboriginal Community in Sindian (
Leaders carried the two items during yesterday's march.
"The injustice suffered by the people of the Katatipol community wasn't an isolated incident. Similar incidents happen in all Aboriginal communities across the country. I'm glad to see representatives from all the tribes here today," a Puyuma priest from Taitung said. "The government should restore to us our dignity and the right to manage our traditional domains and should apologize."
After each tribe performed their own blessing rituals, the protesters danced and sang in unison at Liberty Square. The group marched to the Presidential Office on Ketagalan Boulevard, where representatives met Vice President Annette Lu (
Eight representatives were escorted by two files of Paiwan and Puyuma guards dressed in full warrior regalia and holding spears and wooden shields with carved totems.
At the entrance to the Presidential Office, the eight representatives took off their hunting knives and entered, while their guards waited outside.
Sakinu Tepiq, one of the representatives, explained the significance of the formalities, which he said were traditionally employed when leaders of one village held talks with another community.
"The government promised us a quasi-nation-to-nation status, so we're treating the government as our equals," he said.
After an hour's talk, the negotiators returned with a statement from Lu, saying that President Chen Shui-bian (
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