National Taiwan University should respect precedent and return the bones of Bunun villagers unearthed more than four decades ago for research, the Council of Indigenous Peoples said on Monday, as Bahuan Village (馬遠) residents’ struggle to win the return of the remains draws national attention.
University researchers dug up more than 60 skeletons from the Loiq gravesite of the village in Hualien County’s Wanrong Township (萬榮) in the 1960s.
The university has said the excavation was done with the permission of village leaders after it learned that there were plans to move the burial ground, the village’s self-help association said.
The village had acted under compulsion, it said, calling for the skeletons to be returned.
“Our homes were spread out widely, so many people did not know [about the excavation] at the time,” self-help association spokesman Alang Mangloauan said, adding that university researchers had “asked” villagers for their consent through local police, who were the main representatives of the national government.
The bodies at the site had been buried between 1933 and 1955, after villagers were forced to relocate from Nantou County by the Japanese colonial government, he said.
In a statement, the council promised to negotiate with the university for the skeletons’ return and called on the university to respect its own precedents, including its return of the bones of Sediq chief Mona Rudao to Nantou County for burial in 1973.
Mona’s remains ended up as a specimen in the university’s archeology department after he was killed leading the unsuccessful 1930 Wushe Revolt, the last major Aboriginal uprising against Japanese colonial rule.
While acknowledging that it lacks legal power to compel the university to return the remains, the council called on the university to respect the spirit of the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that grant indigenous rights over ancestral bones in government possession.
Non-partisan Solidarity Union Legislator May Chin (高金素梅), who is part Atayal, is scheduled to host talks between the Ministry of Education, National Taiwan University and village representatives later this week.
Control Yuan Vice President Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) has applied for an investigation to be conducted.
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