This year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was on Sunday, coincided with the Tokyo Olympics, in which many Aboriginal contestants gained recognition worldwide for their stellar performances.
A national fervor for these athletes started when Paiwan judoka Yang Yung-wei (楊勇緯), or Drangadrang, bagged the nation’s first medal on the first day of the Games, and skyrocketed when Amis weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun (郭婞淳), or Tana, claimed gold and set an Olympic record last week. On Sunday, media reports said that 13 of Taiwan’s 86 Olympic competitors are Aborigines, while politicians and other public figures called on people to learn and understand their history, culture and contributions to the nation beyond their success in sports and music.
While Taiwan’s overall success at this year’s Games has boosted international media’s discussion of Taiwan-China relations and why Taiwan is forced to compete under the name “Chinese Taipei,” it has also put the nation’s Aborigines in the spotlight in domestic discussions.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a reminder of the time when Aborigines were forced to use a different name. It marks the occasion on Aug. 1, 1994, when the government officially stopped calling them “mountain compatriots” (山胞) and began referring to them as Aborigines. It took a decade of activism and campaigning to get to that point, and it would take a few more years for them to win the right to officially use romanized versions of their Aboriginal names instead of their Chinese ones.
For those who detest the designation “Chinese Taipei,” the struggle of Taiwan’s Aborigines to win this basic right should easily be understood through this comparison.
Yet incidents of people disrespecting Aboriginal names continue to this day, as well as other forms of disrespect and discrimination, including a string of widely publicized offensive incidents in the past few years. On Saturday, 12 well-regarded entertainers and public figures — both Han and Aborigines — released a joint video calling for an end to discrimination against the nation’s Aborigines.
“It seems that the people of Taiwan still lack an understanding of the diverse groups of people living on this island, leading to frequent misunderstandings and even conflicts,” Amis artist Yosifu says in the video’s opening. “This should not happen. We grew up in this type of unfriendly environment, and it is very tough for us.”
While commenting on how proud they are of the Olympic athletes’ achievements, several Aboriginal public figures, such as entertainer Sakinu and Tainan City Councilor Ingay Tali, said that Aborigines only win praise and notice when they do well for the nation, instead of the usual stereotyping and discrimination.
“We are the light of Taiwan when we do something beneficial, but when we do something negative, then we are immediately slapped with Aboriginal stereotypes. That is the discrimination Taiwanese society has toward Aborigines,” Ingay Tali said.
“See, only now are they praising Aborigines,” Sakinu said, listing a string of negative common stereotypes, adding that he hopes the spotlight placed on them because of the Olympics can let people know that “Aborigines are not that simple.”
One good sign is that more people are willing to speak out in a way that does not take away from the athletes’ achievements.
People should also bear in mind that having a talent for sports is also a stereotype that mainstream society has attached to Aborigines. While celebrating those who excel in the field, people should not reinforce these labels and should take some time to understand the struggles the Aborigines endure, as well as their rich culture and the contributions they make to the nation in all fields.
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