Atayal activist says state’s Aborigine policies doing more harm than good

By Hsieh Feng-chiu and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Wed, May 29, 2013 - Page 3

Atayal writer and activist Walis Nokan criticized the government’s policy toward Aborigines as “welfare colonialism,” saying that it was doing Aboriginal communities more harm than good.

Walis said he wanted to remind government officials and social organizations that if they really want to help Aborigines, they should first talk to the people to find out what they need, then adopt an encouraging approach to help those communities achieve their goals.

The Atayal writer made the remarks at the launch of his new book, City Cruelty (城市殘酷), in Greater Taichung on Saturday. The book contains stories of maladjustment and other problems that Aborigines experience when they migrate to urban centers in search of employment.

“Aborigines in Taiwan have been under colonial rule for more than 100 years. However, the free subsidies and general welfare programs available to Aborigines are not a good remedy for their problems,” said Walis, who worked many years in education and is an activist for Aboriginal societies.

“Under current policies, when fruit crops planted by Aborigine communities do not sell well, the government gives them benefits and subsidies for school tuition fee and financial aid for school lunches,” he said. “This kind of ‘welfare colonialism’ has created dependency among Aboriginals because they do not have to work hard and can still receive generous benefits and subsidies from the state. It also leads some to neglect their familial responsibilities, which are then passed on to teachers and social workers.”

“In some Aboriginal communities, even breakfasts are donated by philanthropic groups, so parents no longer have to provide breakfast to their children,” he added.

“For example, in the elementary school where I teach, students get free breakfast every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Yet because these students’ parents no longer have to provide breakfast, some students are not given anything to eat on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. This is one way in which overly generous welfare programs have created irresponsible parents,” Walis said.

In the past, parents worried about not being able to pay their children’s tuition fees, but now they worry that their kids will not have breakfast or lunch when they are not in school, Walis said.

He added that many well-intentioned people often donate old books to Aboriginal communities, but that he has noticed that most of these second-hand books do not interest the students.

“When I was managing the school library, I asked friends in the city to buy new books and mail them to schools in Aboriginal mountain villages. When I announced that new books were coming, students would line up eagerly to borrow them. Having more current, exciting material is the most effective way to arouse children’s interest in reading,” he said.