The Siraya and other Pingpu groups have the right to be recognized as “indigenous,” the Constitutional Court ruled yesterday as it gave the government a three-year deadline to implement a law to facilitate their recognition.
Reading the ruling, Chief Justice Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力) said that recognition as indigenous should include formerly excluded groups native to Taiwan who speak Austronesian languages and whose culture is related to recognized groups.
Hsu said the ruling was unanimous among the 15 Grand Justices, as judicial officials called such a ruling “quite rare.”
Photo: Liu Hsin-te, Taipei Times
The ruling came after the Council of Indigenous Peoples has for three decades opposed the recognition of about 10 Pingpu groups, including the Siraya.
Council Minister Icyang Parod in June told a Constitutional Court hearing that “recognizing Pingpu groups as indigenous people will adversely affect the rights enjoyed by those who are currently recognized.”
The case was filed by Tainan Siraya Culture Association director Uma Talavan (萬淑娟) after the Taipei High Administrative Court in 2016 ruled against an earlier bid for recognition by the Siraya.
Hsu said that the Constitution guarantees recognition for Austronesian peoples native to the nation who constitute an “ethnic group.”
To prove that, a group would have to present household registration files, including from the Japanese colonial period, when officials comprehensively surveyed households in Taiwan, including the language people spoke at home, Hsu said.
After World War II, most aboriginal groups were registered as “lowland aborigine” or “ mountain aborigine,” but only the latter initially had the chance to be recognized, Hsu said.
However, with yesterday’s ruling, members of Pingpu communities that include elders who speak their original language and have retained Pingpu cultural characteristics would qualify for recognition as an indigenous group, Hsu said.
“They must have the collective identity as an ethnic group,” as well as the required documents to file for recognition, Hsu added.
After the ruling, Uma Talavan told reporters that the Siraya “are happy with this outcome,” calling it a “victory.”
The ruling helps “restore historic justice for us,” she said, but added that it does not automatically result in the Siraya being recognized.
The Council of Indigenous Peoples and indigenous lawmakers might try to impose restrictions that would leave the Siraya without a path to full recognition, she said.
However, Uma Talavan said the ruling is also meaningful for other Pingpu groups, such as the Babuza, Hoanya, Kaxabu, Ketagalan, Lloa, Makatao, Pazeh, Papora, Taokas and Tavalong.
The former regime of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) only recognized “mountain compatriot” groups, initially listing as recognized people the Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tao and Tsou.
Other groups were added later, starting from when the indigenous council was established in 1996.
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