Taipei Times: Being an Aboriginal politician, what is your priority agenda concerning Aboriginal affairs?
May Chin (高金素梅): To recover our lost ancestral land. We Aborigines have been here on this land long before anyone else. Yet, those who came later seem to forget the fact that we Aborigines, not they, are the owners of this land. No land, no mother, no roots. To restore our lost land is a primary step in Aborigines' recovering their dignity, respect and confidence.
We Aborigines are people of peace. However, when nothing else works, we are forced to adopt more aggressive tactics to demand our rights. I, along with other advocates for Aboriginal rights, am planning to take legal action to demand the return of our ancestral lands. We know, however, we are most unlikely to have Taiwanese lawyers taking our case because then the case will be more prone to politicization.
Taipei Times: How do you go about persuading people who do not agree with your saying that Aborigines are the owners of the land?
Chin: I will it prove to them with historical accounts. Most of our ancestral lands have been occupied by outside forces ever since the Dutch and Spanish colonial period in the 17th century. The following Cheng rule, Manchu colonial period and the Japanese colonial period all saw annexation of our ancestral land.
When the KMT came in 1949, they continued to deplete our resources and to impose many restrictions upon the mountain areas inhabited by our ancestors. Lands that originally belonged to us have either been put under the management of government agencies or claimed as national property. Places noted for their natural beauty and tourism potential have been designated national parks. Land upon which the Aborigines rely for survival has been taken away without seeking Aborigines' consent.
Taipei Times: What are the urgent issues currently confronting aborigines?
Chin: High unemployment rates, low economic status and a disadvantageous educational background. And these three issues are mutually reinforcing in a vicious cycle that keeps Aborigines imprisoned at the bottom of the social ladder. Since, back in their traditional tribal villages, their resources and lands have been annexed, large numbers of Aborigines go to the cities to earn their daily bread. But what can they do with a low educational background? Many of them become low-paid manual laborers such as construction workers, truck drivers, janitors and parking-lot guards.
With the sagging economy in recent years and the importation of foreign laborers, there is less demand for construction workers since fewer building projects are underway. And more often than not, these Aborigines find themselves being the first to be fired.
Low economic status results in low-paid jobs or unemployment. That being so, how could they get a chance of higher education? Really, what's the point of the government's affirmative action toward Aborigines seeking college entrance when these students can't afford tuition in the first place? Considering that there are Aboriginal families now struggling just to pay for their kids' elementary school meals, how much more difficult would it be for them to enroll in higher education that often requires large sums for tuition? Financial aid from the government is little help because most of these Aboriginal students don't have sufficient funds to pay for their textbooks, room and board. We are now in the hi-tech information technology society of the 21st century, yet many of the nation's Aborigines still remain uncompetitive, stuck at the level of manual jobs with no hi-tech skill and knowledge. Many people now are talking about 8-inch wafer fabs, but many tribal elders have no idea what this discussion is about. The government should really apologize to the Aborigines for not taking good care of them and finding ways to elevate their economic, educational and social status.
Taipei Times: Other than these issues, what other problems do Aborigines often face?
Chin: Back in the traditional tribal villages, health clinics often lack up-to-date advanced medical equipment and sufficient medical staff. Many tribal elders don't speak a word of Mandarin. When they are ill and go to these health clinics, there are no interpreters to assist them in describing their ailments to the doctors. They then just get sent home after some basic check-ups and with simple medication.
Transportation is another issue. Although the Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Lin-san (林陵三) spoke the truth that there are roads leading to these mountainous tribal villages, what about the condition of these roads? Most of them are not asphalt roads but rock and gravel that are rough and uneven. When I see the Taipei City Government spending money on planting roadside flowers, I think to myself: Wouldn't it be great if that money were used to build asphalt roads in the mountainous areas?
Taipei Times: What kind of solutions are possible for issues such as these?
Chin: Solutions to these issues will easily come as long as the core of the whole issue, our preliminary concern, is being taking care of -- returning our lost land. When we have been given back what is ours and what used to be belonged to us has been restored, then we will regain our recognition and respect as Aborigines and solutions to all other Aboriginal issues will soon follow. Only by being regarded with respect can we Aborigines ensure fair treatment.
The government needs to redress and revitalize its Aboriginal policies and legislation. Aborigines in Taiwan have long been suffering from unequal treatment ranging from economic exploitation and social discrimination to political oppression and cultural negligence. I, among many other Aborigines, wish to rediscover and restore Taiwan's Aboriginal history and cultures by having a separate educational system for Aborigines. Aborigines' ethnic consciousness has long been neglected and suppressed as subordinate to mainstream Han history and culture. Aboriginal kids in schools need to learn and have the knowledge of their own culture and history in their schoolbooks and not just Han history and culture.