Tsou Aborigines welcomed, with some reservations, a decision by the Control Yuan on Tuesday urging several government institutions to make improvements to a development project in the Alishan (阿里山) region.
Following an Executive Yuan decision in 2005, the government signed a contract with the Hungtu Alishan International Development Co the following year allowing it to run the government-operated Alishan railroad and build a luxury hotel near the railroad’s Jhaoping (沼平) Station.
As per the contract, the government handed railroad operations to Hungtu Alishan last year.
However, the Tsou Aborigines, whose traditional domain is the Alishan region, strongly protested.
“The development project was very inappropriate, because when [the government] made the decision, it did not respect local residents,” said Yapasuyongu e’ Akuyana, board member of the Association for Taiwan Indigenous People’s Policies and a Tsou Aborigine.
“According to the Aboriginal Basic Act [原住民族基本法], the government must get approval from local Aborigines if it is to do anything in a traditional Aboriginal domain, which in the present case it never did,” he said. “It only informed us about it in advance and said it would give us some money for compensation.”
Besides concerns regarding their right to manage their domain, the Tsous worried that building a luxury hotel in the mountains would cause severe damage to the ecosystem, Akuyana said.
Control Yuan member Wu Feng-shan (吳豐山), who launched an investigation into the matter following a petition by the Tsous last year, said on Tuesday that he was against the involvement of government institutions.
“My investigation found that the Council for Indigenous Peoples failed to fulfill its responsibility to speak for the Aborigines throughout the decision-making process,” Wu said. “It was equally ridiculous for the Council of Agriculture to refer to the privatized railroad and the hotel as ‘agricultural installations.’”
“I think it’s proof that the government wasn’t careful enough in ruling that the hotel project did not pass an environmental impact assessment,” he said.
Wu said that government institutions involved in the project would be required to make improvements. He did not elaborate.
Akuyana welcomed the Control Yuan’s decision, but remained cautious.
“Should I call it belated justice? I think I’ll wait to see what actions the government will take,” he said.
“Things like this don’t happen in Alishan alone — they happen in traditional Aboriginal areas throughout the country,” he said. “We may get it resolved this time, but what if something else happens again, or elsewhere?”
In related matters, Mateli Sawawan, a Puyuma Aborigine and head of the Hunter Action Alliance, said the group was coordinating Aborigines around the country to launch a campaign calling for an Aboriginal constitution.
“The Aboriginal Basic Act grants Aborigines the right to manage our own traditional domains, but the executive branch never respects the law and the right,” Sawawan said, citing several incidents in which the government failed to respect Aboriginal rights in their own areas.
In one case last year, Puyumas from the Village of Katatipul in Zhiben Township (知本), Taitung County, who were hunting during Mangoyao — or the “Great Hunting Festival” — were chased down in the mountains by police despite the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法) allowing Aborigines to hunt during special festivals. The Aboriginal Basic Act also states that Aborigines have a right to hunt in their own traditional domains.