Today August 1 has been declared Aboriginal People’s Day in Taiwan, and President Tsai Ing-wen inaugurated the day with an apology speech to Taiwan’s indigenous people.
She began her speech by saying “22 years ago the constitution was amended to give the formal title yuan Zhu min (original citizens) to the aboriginal people. Not just to remove discrimination but to recognize them as the original owners of the land. On behalf of the government, I convey to all the aboriginal people our deepest apology. For the past 400 years, to all who bore the pain and unfair treatment, on behalf of the government, I apologize.”
Leaders representing the various tribes were welcomed into the Presidential Palace this morning, where they presided over a ceremony of blessing, followed by the speech.
Several aboriginal KMT(Chinese Nationalist Party) representatives declined to join the event and some of them have joined protesters outside the Presidential Palace.
Protesters took their positions in the middle of Ketagalan Avenue last night, refusing exhortations by police to move. This morning they shouted and sounded horns. They claimed the aboriginal representatives chosen did not adequately represent all aboriginal people.
In the president’s speech, Tsai said that until 400 years ago, the aboriginal people lived on their own land, with their own language, culture and way of life. They were displaced by other people who took the land without consent. The aboriginal people were treated as strangers in their own country, and marginalized.
She spoke of the various regimes that have ruled Taiwan in full or in part for the last 400 years, all of which contributed to the displacement and loss of language and culture – The Dutch, Koxinga, the Qing Dynasty rulers, the Japanese, and finally the policies of the ROC who from 1945 banned the use of ethnic languages, leading to the loss of a large majority of plains aboriginal languages.
The President made a specific apology to the Yami Tribe of Orchid Island concerning the storage of nuclear waste on their island. The government moved nuclear waste to a facility on the island without informing the people.
Tsai also apologized to the Pingpu people who inhabited the western plains of the Island. Since most settlers who came to Taiwan arrived on the western plain, the Pingpu suffered the most.
Tsai said she would convene a meeting of the national aboriginal executive council this afternoon where she would explain her policies. She promised that every year, on August 1, Aboriginal People’s Day, the government will face the people and provide progress reports.
The President invited all aboriginal people present at the meeting or watching on TV and by Internet broadcast to be a witness to the government’s promises, and to actively participate in supervising, encouraging, and advising the government to help achieve the goals of the policies.
Tsai thanked the indigenous people of Taiwan for reminding the nation of ancient traditions that have irreplaceable values; values that should be accorded the dignity they deserve.
President Tsai hopes that her policies will ensure that future generations of all ethnic groups on Taiwan will not lose their language and cultural traditions, or become homeless on their own land.
Finally, she urged the whole society of Taiwan to recognize the history of the land, and the various ethnic and cultural groups that inhabit it, and to strive for reconciliation and coexistence, and to work together to build a multicultural nation of justice and equality.
The official English version of the full speech is available on the President’s website.