National Arbor Day should be replaced with a holiday to commemorate ancestral spirits, Aboriginal activists yesterday said in Taipei, citing mismanagement of national forests as part of renewed calls for the return of ancestral lands.
Activists from the Taiwan Indigenous Conserved Territories Union rallied on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building, singing several traditional songs before speaking out against what they said was a “colonial” holiday.
“Planting trees has other content injected into it because ‘planting’ and ‘colonialism’ are two sides of the same coin,” said Kavas, a member of the Bunun community and a Protestant pastor, playing on the identical pronunciation and similar appearance of the first Chinese characters in the phrase “plant trees” (植樹) and the word “colonial” (殖民).
He called for the end of what he called “the colonialist policy of the Republic of China [ROC] toward Aborigines.”
“The ROC brought Chinese ideas over and said that we should plant trees, but in reality that’s just damaging the environment. God has already planted lots of plants — we do not need to plant anything more,” Kavas said, calling for a revival of traditional living practices.
National Taitung University professor of biology Liu Chiung-hsi said Arbor Day has its origins in commemorating ROC founder father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), who had advocated planting forests across northern China.
While Arbor Day, which the nation marks today, originally coincided with the Tomb Sweeping Festival, it was later moved to the March 12 anniversary of Sun’s death, he said.
Taiwan should observe the International Day of Forests on March 31 instead, Liu said.
The protesters also complained that the Forestry Bureau disrespects traditional Aboriginal cultural practices because it bars Aborigines from gathering traditional building material from Taiwan’s forests.
While the restriction might make sense for others in the nation, Aborigines have traditionally relied on the forests for sustenance and only take what they need, the protesters said.
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