A group of Aboriginal children over the weekend appealed to Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) for help to allow them to make a traditional climb of Yushan (玉山), the nation’s highest peak at 3,952m in elevation.
The children are from Dabang Elementary School in Chiayi County’s Alishan Township (阿里山), a Tsou community.
According to school principal Wan Shu-lien (萬淑蓮), making the hike to Yushan has been an annual custom for the graduating class since 1998.
“Yushan is the sacred mountain for Tsou people, and is part of the traditional Aboriginal territories,” Wan said. “Apart from the three years following Typhoon Morakot in 2009, when widespread destruction of the mountain meant we could not engage in climbing or hiking activities, each graduating class has expected to climb this sacred mountain.”
Due to a daily limit on the number of hikers allowed to scale the peak, which is designed to minimize impact on the mountain’s ecosystem, the school said this year’s graduating class of 11 students would not be able to make the climb.
The head of the school’s curriculum section, Yen Ya-cheng (顏雅徵), said a group of 50 people — including parents and faculty — were split into several groups and entered the official lottery to climb the mountain on different days.
“The situation became rather impractical. So we climbed another mountain in October instead,” Yen said. “Students were despondent, while teachers and parents felt it was a pity that we did not go to Yushan. We hope the minister can help us so the school can continue the custom next year.”
Yen said that from the time they enter grade one, the school’s students know about grade six students climbing Yushan as part of their graduation ceremony, so they have high expectations.
“The parents also see its importance, and had always taken part in the climb. The program is good for educational purposes as it passes on cultural traditions to the next generation,” she said.
Chiayi County Educational Department head Wang Chien-lung (王建龍) said the decision that the school team must split into smaller groups was made by the Yushan National Park Administration because it can not accommodate so many people climbing the mountain in a single group. The park administration also decided the hiking groups from Dabang School must go through the lottery with the general public in the interests of fairness.
Dabang students appealed directly to Chiang during his inspection tour of Alishan Township on Saturday, and he promised to help them apply for permission next year as a special ad hoc case.
“This is a very good custom, and I will certainly support it,” he said.
The ministry’s sports administration deputy section head Tsai Chung-yi (蔡忠益) said the situation puts the park administration in a difficult position.
“However, our office will try to negotiate with them again. Under the principle of equal access to all, we shall see if Dabang school’s custom of climbing Yushan can be maintained, via application through a special ad hoc case,” Tsai said.