Siraya activists in Tainan yesterday criticized the government after the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) sent a letter that requested that the Tainan County Government not register Siraya as Aborigines.
The Siraya are a Pingpu — or “plains” — Aboriginal tribe that lived in Tainan County and parts of Chiayi and Kaohsiung counties. Some academics argue that the Makatao Pingpu of Pingtung County are a branch of the Siraya tribe.
The Siraya gradually “disappeared” because of marriage to Han migrants, but some Siraya descendants rediscovered their ethnic identity through unique local religious rituals and historic household registrations from the Japanese colonial period, which recorded each person’s ethnicity.
To help the Siraya re-establish their tribal identity, the Tainan County Government created a Siraya Aboriginal Affairs Committee last year and allowed Siraya in the county to apply to have their Aboriginal status restored at a county level.
“From January to April, more than 10,000 people filed applications based on household registrations from the Japanese colonial period,” Siraya Cultural Association chairwoman Wan Shu-chuan (萬淑娟) said.
However, the Siraya restoration campaign suffered a major setback when the MOI notified the county government on Monday that only those who belong to the 14 officially recognized Aboriginal tribes may be registered as Aborigines, Wan said.
“Before, besides checking the boxes for the 14 officially recognized tribes, you could also check the ‘other’ box when you made a household registration as an Aborigine,” she said. “But that is no longer the case as the MOI has canceled the ‘other’ box.”
Tuan Hung-kun (段洪坤), convener of the Tainan County Alliance of Siraya Communities, called the MOI a “brutal” government body that “intentionally disregards ethnic diversity.”
“We Siraya are here and we are Aborigines. It’s a simple fact,” said Wan Cheng-hsiung, another member of the Siraya Cultural Association.
The MOI issued a press release yesterday afternoon that said any issue related to Aboriginal status was under the jurisdiction of the ministry and the Council of Indigenous Peoples.
“Local governments and household registration offices should not register anyone as an Aborigine without approval from central government,” it said.
The Siraya activists will stage a protest outside the Executive Yuan today.