The decades-long struggle of Siraya and other Pingpu (plains indigenous) people to be recognized as official indigenous groups saw a major breakthrough last week, as the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously in their favor.
Unanimous rulings are quite rare, and the government has three years to facilitate their recognition. The Pingpu groups have suffered heavy cultural and population loss due to their proximity to Han settlers over the centuries, compared with the 16 recognized indigenous groups who mostly occupied mountainous areas that were technically off-limits to the Han until the late 1800s.
The criteria include Austronesian peoples who have historical documentation (especially from the Japanese colonial era) and retain their culture, language and collective ethnic identity, Chief Justice Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) said.
The language part is tricky, as it has been the most devastated part of cultural erosion for all ethnic groups in Taiwan due to the draconian policies of the Martial Law era. Most Pingpu languages have been dormant for even longer, but many are under revival, and are being learned and taught once again. Many recognized indigenous languages are severely endangered. Do they lose their status if their people stop speaking it?
The ruling merely affirms their right to be recognized as indigenous. The exact determination and mechanism of their recognition and the organizational structures they will fall under are yet to be determined. Although it is a victory for the Pingpu, there is still a long road to go, as the nation has witnessed in the drawn-out ordeal after the same-sex marriage ruling in 2015.
The current recognized indigenous groups and the Council of Indigenous People have long opposed the inclusion of the Pingpu. Council Minister Icyang Parod said after the ruling that their inclusion would adversely affect the rights of those already recognized. In June, he said that there are about 980,000 Pingpu descendants who might be eligible, which is nearly twice the number of the current estimated 580,000 recognized indigenous people.
Although it is an understandable concern, Siraya advocate Alak Akatuang has said the council provided the most liberal number possible to drum up fears. Not all 980,000 would be eligible or willing to register, he said, adding that the actual number was about 200,000. How the government will handle registration, allocate resources and restructure political representation will need to be worked out carefully so that the rights of indigenous groups are ensured.
What is more alarming is indigenous politicians turning the issue into a contest of indigeneity. In June, Taitung County Council Deputy Speaker Lin Tsung-han (林琮翰) said that existing indigenous cultures and lifestyles would be “obliterated” if the “Sinicized” Pingpu groups were integrated into indigenous groups. This sentiment is divisive and unfair, all indigenous groups in Taiwan have suffered discrimination and cultural loss under Han settlement and government policy.
While it is true that many younger Siraya had not even heard of the term “Siraya” until the Pingpu cultural reawakening movement in the 1990s, many communities still maintained certain practices such as the worship of Alid, their collective ancestral spirit, and have put great effort into reviving and preserving their traditions since then. The Taokas of Miaoli remembered enough of the language to compile a 500-word phrasebook and revive their Kantian festival in 2002 after a nearly 50-year absence. Despite this, they cannot teach the language in school due to them not being an officially recognized group.
Including them is unlikely to accelerate assimilation and the loss of indigenous culture, but instead increase the numbers of those vested in indigenous cultural revival and preservation.
Due to enduring the Kafkaesque situation of having two accidents in 30 minutes, one involving an accident with an ambulance, I would like to share my personal experience. Both cases show the loopholes of Taiwanese law, which is a driving factor for the terrible traffic conditions in the nation. I was driving my scooter on the main road in Taoyuan’s Yangmei District (楊梅). Despite there being no cars behind me, a young man in an old car made a sudden left turn and I bumped into his vehicle. At first, the man tried to run away, but was blocked by other
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