While Aboriginal activists welcome an announcement by the government to restore certain administrative rights to former Aboriginal townships that are now districts within special municipalities, they urged passage of legislation to safeguard Aboriginal autonomy.
“I would certainly support such an announcement, because this is giving the nation’s Aborigines a little bit of what the country has taken from them,” Association for Taiwan Indigenous Peoples’ Policies member Pasang Hsiao (蕭世暉) said in a telephone interview. “However, the move still only has some limited impact, we still hope that the government would grant authentic autonomy to the nation’s Aboriginal communities.”
Hsiao added that residents in former Aboriginal townships have been suffering since the former Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung counties were administratively upgraded to special municipalities, whether independently or after merging with other cities.
Affected former Aboriginal townships include Wulai District (烏來) in New Taipei City, Heping District (和平) in Greater Taichung City, Namasiya (那瑪夏), Taoyuan (桃源) and Maolin (茂林) districts in Greater Kaohsiung City.
As Taoyuan County is expected to be upgraded to a special municipality next year, Fusing Township (復興), a predominantly Atayal region, will be the next Aboriginal township to become a district in a city.
According to the current law, residents of Aboriginal townships may vote to elect their own mayor — who must be an Aborigine — and a representative council. However, after the townships became city districts, the council no longer exists and the district chief is appointed by the mayor.
In addition, former Aboriginal townships also lost their right to be granted budgets and use them independently.
While Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and Deputy Minister of the Interior Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) have agreed to revise the Local Government Act (地方制度法) to restore certain administrative power to Aboriginal districts, including allowing election of district warden and a district council, Hsiao said it is not enough.
“The most important thing is to allow creation of Aboriginal autonomous regions,” Hsiao said.
Indigenous Peoples’ Action Coalition of Taiwan secretary-general Omi Wilang, an Atayal, agreed with Hsiao.
“The announcement is certainly positive, but it would only restore limited rights to former Aboriginal townships,” Omi said. “For instance, the city government would still have the power to allocate budgets to Aboriginal districts though the districts may be able to use them freely.”
“In a highly polarized political environment, I would be worried what may happen if the elected district chief and the mayor are from too opposite political parties,” he added.
Omi also called on the government and the legislature to adopt laws concerning Aboriginal autonomy promptly.