Aboriginal rights activists yesterday protested a slander suit filed against them by a developer after they exposed what they said was the illegal construction of a building on Aboriginal reserve land in Hsinchu County.
“This is ridiculous, that someone who is destroying our land files a lawsuit against us,” Liu Mei-ling (劉美玲), an Atayal from Hsinchu County’s Guansi Township (關西), told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan.
“We have done nothing wrong in defending our home,” he added.
Liu, along with non-Aboriginal writer Chu Tien-i (朱天衣), were sued by a man surnamed Hsu (許), who last year started constructing a farmhouse on a plot of Atayal reserve land in Hsinchu, which is also restricted forestry land according to the Forestry Bureau.
Since last year, Liu and Chu, with the help of environmentalists and Aboriginal rights advocates, have questioned the legality of the construction since non-Aborigines are not permitted to make use of Aboriginal reserve land, not to mention that the land is also a natural reserve.
Following their protests, the Hsinchu County Government revoked the construction permit for Hsu’s house in April and said that if Hsu wants to reapply for a construction permit, he must first obtain permission from both the Forestry Bureau and the Council of Indigenous Peoples.
“If the government had done its job right, we wouldn’t have to stand up against such things,” Chu said.
“I’ve lived in Guansi for more than 10 years. I’ve seen too many cases of illegal development projects and construction causing damage not only to the ecosystem, but also to the mountains,” he added.
“I feel obliged to stand up against such things,” Chu said.
Omi Wilang, convener of the Indigenous Peoples’ Action Coalition Taiwan, who is also an Atayal, said that in Aboriginal communities nationwide, there are non-Aboriginal developers who borrow Aborigines’ names through deception or other means so that they may obtain the de facto right to use Aboriginal reserve land.
“What happens in Mautu is not an isolated case,” Omi added, referring to the site in Guansi by its Atayal name.
“It’s not a big deal that I’m being sued, but the question is how long do we have to wait for the government to take action to protect Aboriginal reserve lands?” Chu said. “If the county government has revoked Hsu’s construction permit, why is it allowing him to apply again if he gets permission from the Forestry Bureau and the Council of Indigenous Peoples?”
Various environmental protection groups also voiced their support for Liu and Chu.
Lin San-chia (林三加), a lawyer representing the two men, said the Constitution protects people’s right to report alleged illegal matters for the reason of encouraging citizens to care about public issues, but it will boomerang if groups are sued when they exercise their rights.
Lin urged the government’s Soil and Water Conservation Bureau and the agencies that manage Aboriginal affairs to explain how the developer got his construction permit, despite the area being a hillside conservation zone limited to forestry and reserved for Aborigines.