Students have voiced their indignation and many members of the public are angry after a series of incidents on the National Taiwan University campus involving discriminatory language about indigenous people.
Is it a failure of education? Why have such slurs against indigenous people occured at Taiwan’s top university? As an indigenous person, I am angry and sad.
When I was growing up, I was often looked at askance for being an indigenous person. Some people thought that the system of reserving places for indigenous students at high schools and colleges, and giving them bonus points for enrollment was welfare provided because indigenous people are “savages” living in “backward” conditions.
Some people even openly mocked indigenous languages. When I was at elementary school and high school, we were not allowed to speak our own languages.
These experiences have left a lasting impression.
During the process of colonization and state hegemony, indigenous people’s land, languages and knowledge were stripped away and suppressed, so that many have gradually lost the knowledge about their own communities, as well as their identity and confidence.
Many people still harbor prejudice and misunderstand the government policies designed to protect indigenous people’s rights, giving rise to discrimination and labeling.
Government departments have been improving and implementing policies concerning indigenous people’s rights and status, such as land rights, linguistic and cultural development, and social care.
The government’s promotion of transitional justice for indigenous people has also made conditions fairer for the ethnic groups so badly oppressed in the past.
However, the government should address the repeated incidents of discrimination. It should launch social initiatives and policies, and promote legislation such as an anti-discrimination act and an ethnic communities equality act.
More curriculum hours should be devoted to lessons related to diversity and ethnic history, to improve students’ understanding of indigenous people.
Only then will it be possible to reduce misunderstanding and prejudice, and create a social environment of kindness, friendship and mutual respect.
Ma Jhih-jheng is a social work supervisor.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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