Fri, Nov 21, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Aboriginal autonomy delayed

PRIORITIES Leaders asked when President Ma would make good on his promise of Aboriginal autonomy, while the president focused on repairing infrastructure

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of Aboriginal residents from Sanying District in Shulin City of Taipei County yesterday stage a protest in front of the Executive Yuan in Taipei. The group called on the government not to demolish their houses and guarantee their right of abode in the area.

PHOTO: CHIEN JUNG-FONG, TAIPEI TIMES

Secretary-general of the Taiwan Aboriginal Society, Isak Afo, yesterday questioned the government’s slow progress in actualizing Aboriginal autonomy. However, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), said that rebuilding infrastructure in Aboriginal regions, rather than autonomy, should take priority.

“Just by looking at the Council of Indigenous Peoples’ [CIP] policy agenda for the next year, it really worries us, the Aboriginal rights activists, that the government’s Aboriginal policy seems to be under the guideline of ‘welfare colonialism,’” Isak told a conference on Aboriginal policies organized by the Taiwan Indigenous Survival and Development Association in Taipei. “If this is true, the government is certainly breaking President Ma’s campaign promise.”

While Ma promised to inaugurate Aboriginal autonomy “on a trial basis,” the CIP’s policy agenda has been focused on repairing infrastructure damaged by natural disasters, giving out more scholarships for Aboriginal students and increasing the Aboriginal emergency assistance fund, Isak said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉), who also attended the conference, disagreed.

He said that “what Aborigines need is not to join the UN or autonomy — they want repairs for roads and bridges in their disaster-devastated areas.”

Located mostly in high mountains, Aboriginal communities have been more vulnerable to natural disasters than other areas for a long time.

Typhoons, earthquakes and heavy rainfall have damaged roads, bridges, schools and homes. In some cases, mudslides have wiped out entire villages.

Often communities are hit by new disasters before they are even able to recover from previous ones.

Ma, who was invited to deliver his remarks, echoed Kung’s view.

“I visited Lishan [梨山] once last year,” Ma said. “Although our fellow Aboriginal compatriots grow beautiful high-altitude fruits and vegetables there, they complained to me that they had no way to truck their produce to market because the Central Cross-Island Highway has long remained damaged.”

A section of the Central Cross-Island Highway — connecting Taichung County and Hualien County — was damaged by the 921 Earthquake in 1999.

Out of the consideration that restoring the highway would cause damage to the local ecosystem, the former Democratic Progressive Party administration decided against repairing the road.

The decision was overturned after the KMT took over the government in May.

“This example shows that the very survival of many Aborigines is threatened because of damaged infrastructure, and thus we should make repairing infrastructure our priority,” Ma said. “While autonomy is too big an issue, we should take time to do more research and carefully make a plan before putting it in place.”

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