Ma defends government’s record on Aboriginal issues

By Mo Yan-chih and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Fri, Aug 02, 2013 - Page 3

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday defended the government’s efforts to protect the rights of Aborigines and promised to facilitate the legislation of land and ocean rights.

Ma, attending the opening ceremony of the National Administrative Conference for Indigenous Peoples, said the government’s Aboriginal policies aimed to promote the autonomy and independent development of Aborigines.

The government has invested NT$50 billion over the past six years to improve the lives of Aborigines, including assisting different tribes to develop local industries with tribal characteristics, and improving the education and medical services of Aboriginal communities, he said.

Ma said the government would work harder to pass related laws, including the draft aboriginal autonomy act (原住民自治法) and the draft indigenous people land and ocean act (原住民族土地暨海洋法).

“We’ve discussed the autonomy of Aboriginal tribes for years and preserving their traditional territories remains our goals. Although there are many challenges, we will work hard to fulfill our promises through negotiations and communication,” Ma said at the ceremony, which was held at the Grand Hotel in Taipei.

Allowing Aborigines to organize autonomous communities is a promise Ma has repeatedly made since he was elected president in 2008. Yet the draft autonomy act has long been stalled in the legislature.

Outside the ceremony, a protest was held against the government’s signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement in June, with a group of protestors chanting: “Oppose the cross-strait service trade agreement. Save our jobs.”

Tight security measures were implemented around the hotel because of the protest, with hundreds of police officers and security guards stopping the protestors getting close to the entrance to the hotel.

At a separate event yesterday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) honored Taiwan’s Aborigines on Indigenous People’s Day and said the Ma administration has had retrogressive policies on Aboriginal affairs.

“As a party which has always respected Aboriginal traditions and culture in Taiwan, the DPP would pick up where it left off on Aboriginal affairs if it was to return to power,” Su told young Aborigines at a seminar in Taipei’s Beitou District (北投) organized by the DPP’s Department of Ethnic Affairs.

Indigenous People’s Day was established by the DPP when it was in power, but it has yet to become an official national holiday, Su said.

The DPP had worked hard to improve the status of Aborigines in Taiwan, Su said, as the wording “indigenous people” was not used until the DPP was in power.

Taiwan’s earliest inhabitants were called “barbarians” by the Japanese colonial regime and “mountainous peoples” by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, originally named Jieshou Road in honor of former president Chiang Kai-shek, was renamed Ketagalan Boulevard during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) term to highlight the Aboriginal tradition in Taiwan, he said.

National policy on Aboriginal affairs appeared to be backsliding after the KMT returned to power in 2008, Su said, citing the example of the removal of the origin of Indigenous Peoples’ Day from the Web site of the Indigenous People’s Council.

Su also warned that Beijing has resorted to various economic and cultural strategies to win the support of Taiwan’s Aborigines.

Mayaw Komod, director of the DPP’s Department of Ethnic Affairs, said the party hopes to work on the issues of Aboriginal autonomy and returning land to Aborigines should it be returned to power in the future.