Aboriginal activists yesterday urged lawmakers to withdraw a proposed revision of the Act for the Utilization and Transfer of Reserved Mountainous Land (山坡地保育利用條例), which would alter a pending period that currently allows Aborigines to secure the ownership of reserve lands, warning that the planned change could accelerate the loss of Aboriginal lands to developers.
Article 37 of the law stipulates that Aborigines may obtain the right to farm or rent reserved mountainous lands and if an Aborigine legally uses the plot of land for five consecutive years he or she may be granted ownership of the land.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Jeng Tian-tsair (鄭天財) of the Amis tribe has proposed deleting the five-year pending period from the article, causing many people to be concerned.
“If the proposed revision is passed, it would be a disaster for us, because it would make it easier for large developers to get hold of Aboriginal reserve land by borrowing Aboriginal names,” said Liu Mei-ling (劉美玲), an Atayal Aborigine from Hsinchu County’s Guansi Township (關西).
“There are a lot of large-scale development projects in Atayal undertaken by non-Aborigines; there are hot spring resorts, coffee shops and hotels, but Aborigines can only work there as janitors, making between NT$18,000 and NT$20,000 a month,” Lin said.
Lin Chang-mau (林長茂), of the Green Formosa Front, said he has witnessed numerous cases in which Aborigines lent their identity to non-Aboriginal developers for between NT$200,000 anmd NT$300,000 so developers can then use the land as collateral for loans worth tens of millions of NT dollars.
“Many Aborigines became indebted because of this. Some ended up becoming homeless because they are too afraid to go home and some have even committed suicide,” Lin said.
Hoyi Ciku, an Atayal pastor from Renai Township (仁愛) in Nantou County, urged all Aborigines to protect their lands and called on the government to actively launch a probe into the illegal use of Aboriginal lands.
“Instead of proposing a relaxation to the restriction now, Aboriginal lawmakers should pass subordinate laws to the Aboriginal Basic Act (原住民族基本法) to better protect Aboriginal lands,” Hoyi said.
Jeng, the amendment’s leading advocate, said he made the proposal because he believed it is not fair that there is no five-year restriction for non-Aborigines, but there is one for Aborigines.
KMT Legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉) of the Seediq tribe agreed.
“Actually, I also support the activists’ idea that non-Aboriginal developers should not get hold of Aboriginal lands, but restricting Aboriginal rights to land ownership is not the way to solve the issue,” Kung said. “The target should be developers, not Aboriginal landowners.”